The old school diner won’t survive the pandemic, so locals are buying the booths to recreate it at home.

Customers eat inside Ann’s Coffee Shop in Menlo Park on April 7, 2021. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

After 75 years, Ann’s Coffee Shop, known for its 1950s atmosphere, bottomless carafes of coffee and homemade soups and pies, is set to close April 19, according to Nicki Poulos and George Paplos, the mother-son duo that has run the diner for the past 13 years.

The building housing the 772 Santa Cruz Ave. coffee shop, along with the adjacent Menlo Bazaar at 780 Santa Cruz Ave., has been sold by Allan Aldrich, a landlord who kindly didn’t collect rent in the months that the shop was closed over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reduced rent when the shop faced reduced capacity due to limited outdoor dining availability, Paplos said.

Ann’s Coffee Shop co-owner Nicki Poulos at the register in her Menlo Park diner on April 7, 2021. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

The pandemic hurt the vintage cafe, which is as old as the San Francisco 49ers and has been open during nine decades from the 1940s to the 2020s, Paplos said. The coffee shop was only able to keep one cook and one waitress on staff, and could seat less than half of its indoor capacity outdoors, he added. But the final nail in the coffin was the building being sold, he said.

Because of the skeleton crew still working at the cafe, including Poulos’ grandchildren, visitors coming to say goodbye to the coffee shop and the family that runs it are encouraged to be patient and accept a more limited menu than usual, Paplos said.

Poulos said the family asked whether the coffee shop might be permitted to remain open while the new owners decided what to do with the property, but the request was declined.

Eating at Ann’s (clockwise from top left): Ann’s Coffee Shop co-owner George Paplos places a plate of food up for a server; a slice strawberry rhubarb pie at Ann’s; Vasili Panagiotopoulos, Nicki Poulos’ grandson, buses dishes at Ann’s Coffee Shop in Menlo Park on April 7, 2021; an order of Eggs Benedict. (Photos by Magali Gauthier)

According to the Menlo Park Historical Association, the shop was first opened in 1946 at 728 Santa Cruz Ave., where Le Boulanger is now. The shop relocated to 772 Santa Cruz Ave. around 1962.

Pete Pappas bought the location in 1992, where his son Nick and cousin Danny Kevetos ran it for many years, according to the association.

In 2008, Poulos and Paplos bought the cafe.

“I always wanted to run a coffee shop,” Poulos said. Over time, her son went on to pursue other work opportunities, leaving her to run the coffee shop.

“It was exciting,” she said. “I would go and listen to the regular customers there.”

Over its decades of operation, it has developed a following of loyal regulars that spans generations. “It was like a home to them,” Poulos said. “It was a loud place, a gathering place.”

On Wednesday morning, April 7, the diner was bustling as families, couples and individuals were served hearty breakfasts with pancakes, bacon and eggs.

Julie Mercer was there with her son and two grandsons from out of town. “It’s a gem of a place to come to,” she said. “I feel nostalgic to be here.” Her husband and his friends had a long tradition of going there every week to talk and pray together, she added.

“I needed to come and experience it one more time,” she said.

Nicki Poulos, co-owner of Ann’s Coffee Shop, grabs a pie in the Menlo Park diner on April 7, 2021. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Dorothy Hersey, another regular who has been coming to Ann’s for six years, said she likes the unpretentious atmosphere, the friendliness and the service. It’s somewhere she’s felt comfortable dining alone and called it her “favorite breakfast stop.”

Diners Patty and Terry, who have been frequenting Ann’s since 1994, described it as the last of the old-school diners in Menlo Park following the closures of Ken’s and Jason’s Cafe. Ken’s Pancake House on El Camino Real shuttered in 1999, and Jason’s Cafe closed in 2019 after being hit with lawsuits claiming the facility did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Poulos described another regular, a woman over 100 years old whose family brings her to the coffee shop several times each week. Faced with its closure, the family has asked to buy a booth and place settings from Ann’s to install in their grandmother’s garage, Poulos said.

She added that the place has long been popular with mothers who called first thing in the morning to order breakfast for their kids before school.

Guillermina Ortiz, a server at Ann’s Coffee Shop for the past 13 years, speaks with customers in the Menlo Park diner on April 7. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

There have also been plenty of high-profile visitors to the shop, she noted: Shirley Temple Black, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, former quarterback Y.A. Tittle and football coach and former quarterback Jim Harbaugh.

And several years ago, she said, the cafe also worked with a security detail to serve then-Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner.

The diner has also been a mainstay for generations of Poulos’ family.

Vasili Panagiotopoulos, Poulos’ grandson who grew up around his family’s diner since he was 3 years old, said it’ll be “strange not having it in my life.”

“It’s very, very bittersweet,” said A’lex Paplos, Poulos’ granddaughter, about the closure of Ann’s Coffee Shop.

She began working at the shop at age 16, now she’s a lawyer nearing 30. She said she enjoyed interacting with the wide spectrum of seniors, young people and families who were customers. She especially liked working at the 1950s-style counter, where she’d often fall into conversations with customers.

“It was always like, every day I got a new story from someone,” she said. “You just get to hear a lot of interesting things from the community.”

“It’s been a big part of our lives. We feel very much like a part of the community. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye,” she said. At the same time, she added, she’s looking forward to seeing her grandmother, who is almost 76, take the opportunity to retire.

As for what’s next, Poulos said she plans to travel to her country of origin, Greece, and spend time with her family.

Mugs for sale at Ann’s Coffee Shop in Menlo Park. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

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Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw

Bay Area reporter covering local government, inequality and the outdoors

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