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Leo’s Coney Island

“Can I please get two-on-one without?” thanks Ahmed. Coney Islands have a language spoken all their own. They are an oasis away from ordinary places and life. When entering the lively setting there is a sense of former times. Leo’s Coney Island attracts a broad spectrum of clientele; it’s like a Bill Knaps for the younger generation. The friendly atmosphere, cheap prices, and good times keep people coming back. Leo’s Coney Island offers much more than just food; a sense of family, community, and friendship is what is found here.

Leo’s has been around since 1972 when it was first founded by Leo Stassinopoulos. Leo started out working as a mere cook in 1970. He got the idea to start his own Coney Island by his uncle who was already in the Coney Island business. Leo has built a small empire; there are 50 Leo’s Coney Island restaurants in Michigan. He started selling them as franchises and partnerships. I think the only Coney Island that he owns is the one where I worked throughout college in Bloomfield Township, that’s where he spends most of his time. According to Leo, the reasons people come back are, “Number one: the food, number two: the service, and number three: good prices and quick food.” Leo knows all the in’s and out’s of his place. He works every job there when someone calls in sick or doesn’t show up. Typically he is found chatting with customers, working at carry-out, or manning the cash register, but it is not uncommon to find him as one of the cooks, doing prep, or even waiting on tables. Leo’s theory is simple: you “have to be on top” (Leo Stassinopoulos). To get there you have to know what to do; Leo does.

This place has it all, from burgers and Philly steak sandwiches to soups and salads. The main items carried are Greek salads, sandwiches, soups, breakfast, chicken, fish, and hot dogs. When Leo’s first opened it was mainly a hot dog place. Leo said that they would order about 300-400 lbs of hot dogs a week back then, and now they only order 200 lbs of them and 700 lbs of chicken. People are much more health conscious now-a-days. They are cutting calories and watching what they eat. Leo has noticed that “people change. So you have to change with them. The menu has changed over the years to suit their needs.” When the restaurant first opened they only had about three different salads. Now there are almost ten different options to go with your lettuce, and there is even a salad with no lettuce! The Village salad comes with a variety of veggies, but lettuce won’t be found in the bowl. By far, the number one selling item on the menu is the Greek salad. Right after the salads is the famous Coney Island hot dogs. The Coney Island is a hot dog in a bun, smothered in chili, onions, and mustard. The Coneys have been popular since the very start, but the salad kick could just be a fad and ten years down the road it will change to another food item.

Some of the waitresses have been there for years, practically since the place opened. Others come and go. If the money is not good enough or they don’t get along with the other workers they move on to the next job. A previous waiter named Dan remarked that, “It wasn’t that I didn’t like the job or the people I worked with. I just wasn’t making enough money, and I felt that I needed to stop waiting tables and go into a job somewhere else that might actually go somewhere.” Before, while, and after working at Leo’s, Dan worked at Blockbuster. Everyone feels comfortable somewhere, and if something just isn’t working out they move on. Change helps people grow. He needed to find a different job because he wasn’t getting what he needed. Now he is a teacher. I don’t work there anymore either. After getting two college degrees my time working at a restaurant was over a little while after that. But it took a few years. In this economy even two college degrees won’t get you an instant job. Working at Leo’s is a great place to have your first job and I miss the people and atmosphere, but that isn’t where I am meant to be forever.

When I saw Moe’s bright smiling face looking out at me from behind the counter top by the grill, I knew why I came to work each day. It’s the people. My co-workers made me want to stay there. Suzie thinks what makes people want to keep working there is the fun atmosphere, “If all else fails, you can ask Brooklyn to dance for you and he can make you smile.” I felt the same way with Ahmed, Useph, Ali, Jay, Moe, Amanda, Pam, Natalie, Lila, Stefani, and Ferris. Moe made me feel welcome right away and I never forgot that. I developed a sense of loyalty towards Leo’s Coney Island in the seven years that I worked there. I would go sometimes on my days off to have dinner with friends. Immediately I would be greeted with warm smiles and waves of recognition. I wanted to be there when I didn’t have to be. Not many people can say that about their jobs.

Friends, family, and business associates can meet here to have lunch and talk. It’s a very outgoing place where you don’t have to use your quiet voice and worry if you are talking too loudly. Waitresses are constantly yelling food orders, the phone is always ringing off the hook, and customers are full of emotion and vigor. Typically they serve the younger clientele; whether coming from a sports game or meeting for a quick bite to eat before getting into the homework grind, they always seem to want Leo’s. Teenagers find Leo’s a nice place to hang out because of their economical pricing. For a small Greek salad and pop it would cost $7.50. At most places, salads alone are near the ten dollar mark. Customers like to just hang out here. Natalie enjoys the diversity of the customers that frequent the restaurant, “because it attracts so many different people from so many different backgrounds; it’s the ideal place to people watch.” Everyone comes for different reasons. Even with good prices on the food, most customers know that expected tipping practices today are about 20% of the bill. Servers get paid $2.71 hourly that goes towards taxes and is taken out of their check. Please tip your servers appropriately or just go to a fast food place instead. And a dollar or two is appropriate for getting a carry out order as well, not necessarily 20%. But they do take time to put together that order and make sure it’s correct. Be generous to others, they are working hard trying to make an honest living.

Leo’s Coney Island has been and will continue to be around for a while. I grew up with it less than five minutes from my house. My mom took me here as a child. It’s a staple of society in Michigan. People from other states come to Leo’s Coney Island when they are in town because they have heard such good things. There is no place like it in the area. Leo’s doesn’t offer just food; it offers an impact on your life.

Food | Restaurant Reviews


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