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Old-timers and newcomers alike love Thunderbird

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Owner John Ginakes has been running the Thunderbird Restaurant since 1963.

PHOTO BY MARTIN ZEILIG Enlarge Image

Owner John Ginakes has been running the Thunderbird Restaurant since 1963. Photo Store

Whether it needs to be done or not, owner John Ginakes admits that every three years he replaces the upholstery and furnishings in his 65-seat restaurant, the Thunderbird, located at 1970 McPhillips St.

That attention to renewal is only one of the reasons for this 2,500-square-foot establishment’s continued success.

The clientele will tell you about its food and homey feel.

"I’ve been coming here since 1989," said Ron Lysohirka, a tractor-trailer driver for Cougar Transport, who was digging into a plate of fried chicken with French fries and coleslaw on a sunny afternoon.

"It’s a cozy little place. The people are friendly, and the food is great."

In another booth, retirees George McConnell and Wayne Carman were having French fries. Longtime friends, they have been patrons of  Thunderbird for at least 50 years, said McConnell.

"Sometimes, I’m here for lunch and once a week with a group of guys for breakfast. As Long as I’m alive and Johnny’s the owner, I’ll be coming here."

The Thunderbird, with its iconic yellow outdoor sign with the stylized image of a bird on top, first opened its doors in May, 1960, said Ginakes, 73, a resident of Garden City who immigrated to Canada from his native Sparta, Greece back in 1954.

At first he was in partnership with two of his brothers, the late Jimmy Ginakes, and the now semi-retired Perry Ginakes.

"My three children also worked in the restaurant when they were younger, along with my wife, Gloria. She still comes in and does everything from waitressing to cooking," he said, adding he has a total of 12 employees.

Ginakes has worked hard all his life at various jobs, including as a shoeshine boy at a shop on the corner of Garry Street and Ellice Avenue back in the 1950s.  

"I went to school, but not much," he said.

"I had to support my family. So, I had to work as a teenager.

"Everybody thought, we were crazy to build this restaurant because it was in the middle of nowhere at the time," Ginakes confessed.

"Business has been very good over the years. It’s provided me with a wonderful living. I still see some of the old timers. I have great respect for my customers. I am a people person."

Martin Zeilig is a community correspondent for the North End. You can contact him at mzeilig@mymts.net.

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