Olga Loizon, Olga's Kitchen founder, dies at age 92

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News
Olga Loizon, founder of Olga's restaurant, died Monday, the company that bought Olga's Kitchen reported.

Correction: An earlier version of this obituary misstated when Olga's Kitchen was sold. It was in 1976.

It began with a doubting husband, a blanching secretary and a single souvlaki machine.

A decade later, it was a beloved Metro Detroit icon that spread across the U.S. with 56 Mediterranean-style restaurants from Maryland to California.

That’s the story of Olga’s Kitchen and its founder, Olga Loizon, an immigrant’s daughter whose feats as a female entrepreneur were years ahead of her time.

The tale ended Monday with the death of the irrepressible Mrs. Loizon of Birmingham. Surrounded by family, she died from natural causes at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. She was 92.

The death was announced by TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants, which bought the company in 2015.

The legacy of the Detroit native lives on in the stories that family and friends recount about her.

Like how she got the idea for the restaurant from a trip to Greece, how she was the first woman to obtain a business loan from her local bank, and how she continued to make appearances in the restaurants as recently as last year.

"Her passion for her work and Olga's kitchen was unmatched, marketing for the brand at every turn," said a son, Bill Loizon.

But the best stories were about the eatery’s origin in 1970.

Her husband, John, a successful architect, was opposed to the idea, arguing against it until late in the night, said relatives.

When she approached the Continental Market in Birmingham about leasing space for her first shop, the market owner’s secretary said it was a terrible idea, that no one would buy that type of food.

Nearly half a century later, Mrs. Loizon was still miffed while being interviewed by The Detroit News for a story in 2014.

“I turned and looked at her and said, ‘I don’t know who you are, and right now I don’t care who you are, I’m going to be a success,” she said.

And she kept her word.

Not that it was easy. The early days were a lot of work and a lot of tears, she told the newspaper.

The space she rented from Continental Market was 11-by-10 feet, she said. She and Bill were practically on top of each other.

“When my son would be cutting the meat, I’d be sitting there rolling the dough and we’d be bumping fannies,” she said.

Her sandwiches featured broiled beef and lamb meat, a blend of three cheeses, garlic and cayenne pepper power wrapped in flat bread and smothered with tangy greek yogurt.

What made them even more special were the secret ingredients she used in the making of the freshly baked gyro bread.

In 1976, she was bought out by a group of investors who had tasted the sandwiches at a catered party and were immediately smitten.

The new owners began spreading the restaurants across Metro Detroit.

The chain struggled outside Metro Detroit and 26 restaurants remain today, all but one in Michigan, said the company.

Mark Schostak, executive chairman of the Livonia-based TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants, said Mrs. Loizon's trademark was to leave everything she touched wrapped in love, from her sandwiches to meeting customers.

"While she will be dearly missed, her legacy will forever live on with Olga's kitchen," said Schostak.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

In addition to her husband and son, Mrs. Loizon is survived by another son, Ernest Loizon; and a daughter, Emily Kontos.