Olga Loizon gave her restaurants a personal touch

The legacy of the Detroit area restaurateur, who died Monday at age 92, will live on through the Olga Loizon Memorial Foundation

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
Olga's Kitchen founder Olga Loizon died Monday at age 92.

When I was a teenager, Olga’s Kitchen was my favorite restaurant.

One mid-1990s day, famished from an afternoon of shopping for CDs, wallet chains, wide-legged jeans and black T-shirts at Macomb Mall in Roseville, my friend and I ducked into the Olga’s near the mall's main entrance. I ordered what I had always ordered at Olga’s since I was old enough to communicate to a server: a Greek salad and plain Olga pita with sauce on the side.

As I was stabbing at my salad with no tomatoes and extra olives, I saw Olga walk into her namesake restaurant. I knew it was her because my grandmother loved taking me shopping. That meant going to the mall, and going to the mall meant lunch at Olga’s. (My first memory of eating at a restaurant is a visit to the Eastland Mall location.) Back in the 1980s and ‘90s some locations had a framed photo of founder Olga Loizon near the register.

So when Loizon walked into the restaurant I was able to pause my surly teenager attitude for just a minute and said to my friend, “Dude, that’s Olga.”

She must have seen the look of shock on my bangs-framed face and came over to our booth and asked how everything was. She saw the empty bowl that held my order of extra black olives, asked if I’d like more and signaled to the server to bring us some.

It was a quick and friendly encounter and one that I (obviously) never forgot. It sprang to mind the instant I heard that the restaurateur had died Monday at age 92.

That was the thing about Olga’s restaurant. Besides being consistent and familiar, you felt that personal connection.

Olga Loizon dines with a young customer.

Many know the story of Olga’s, how Loizon first opened in a tiny kitchen in Birmingham in 1970. She was the first woman her local bank had ever given a business loan to. About six years later, she sold her concept to private investors, but she remained the face and heart of the casual restaurant with the soft, sweet pita bread that was unlike anywhere else.

I’m far from the only person in Metro Detroit to have a story about meeting Olga at an Olga’s. As her son, Bill Loizon, said in a statement released after her death, she was highly influential, a role model and inspiration for entrepreneurs, especially young women.

Even after Olga’s Kitchen was purchased by Michigan-based TEAM Schostik Family Restaurants in 2015, Loizon would still visit locations to check in on customers.

The restaurant group is helping her legacy live on via the Olga Loizon Memorial Foundation, they announced Monday. Donations can be made in lieu of flowers at 17800 Laurel Park Drive North, Ste. 200C, Livonia, MI 48152, or in person at any Olga’s location.

Proceeds will benefit young women entrepreneurs.

A vintage photo of Olga Loizon sent to the media with an announcement of her death Monday.


Twitter: @melodybaetens