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Dena's Family Restaurant prepares to close
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A well-known local restaurateur is planning to close up shop the day before Thanksgiving.

Dena Voukides, longtime owner of Dena’s Family Restaurant located at 15391 S. Dixie Hwy., will close the eatery Nov. 25.

Voukides, who has owned and operated the business for 20 years, sold it earlier this year to Lume Cannabis Co., which plans to turn the space into a marijuana retail business.

Since opening her diner, the work has been nonstop, she said, adding that she’s seen the county go from having a few diners to a much more crowded, competitive restaurant market.

“Everywhere you look, there is a diner now,” she said. “You almost have to be constantly on your toes.”

But her time in Monroe has given her a loyal customer base. It’s those customers and the community that have had the greatest impact on the Monroe resident’s life.

“They’ve embraced me with a lot of love in this town,” Voukides said. “I will always be grateful for that.”

Voukides has been a part of joyous moments, like weddings and graduation parties and celebrations.

She’s has also been there for the darker moments, too, catering funerals and providing meals for the local homeless shelters.

“I feel grateful for the way those customers have embraced me,” Voukides said. “People have trusted me to be a part of those moments — those are the most amazing memories I have from this community.

“I will take them with me forever.”

Voukides has weathered the Great Recession, the impact of the closure of Ford Motor Co.’s nearby plant and shifting consumer trends.

She and her diner were even featured on The Food Network.

In 2015, her restaurant received a remodel on “America’s Diner Revival,” a show hosted by Amanda Freitag and Ty Pennington.

COVID-19 has also left a mark, though Voukides says she has been more fortunate than several other business owner.

But the pandemic’s damage has still taken a toll. Before deciding to sell, her business was down about 40%. Like many other businesses, as her revenue decreased, her expenses largely remained the same.

“A lot of it has to do with the seating situation,” Voukides said. “When you lose half your seating, you lose half of your business. The income isn’t the same, but the gas and electric bills — those things don’t change.”

Voukides was able to operate like a takeout business when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shuttered businesses earlier this year due to the pandemic. As restaurants were able to start reopening at limited capacity, patrons were able to go back to dining rooms.

The return has been marked by imposed decreased seating capacities, contact tracing and some patrons’ expressing hesitance to once again dine-in anywhere. With the looming threat of possible future closures and a yearning for retirement, Voukides said the decision ultimately made sense.

“I felt like I hit the lottery,” she said. “It was perfect timing.”

A representative for Lume approached Voukides about selling the property in July, a month before Monroe Charter Township began accepting applications for marijuana-related businesses.

At first, she thought it was a joke when someone called her and asked what it would take to buy the restaurant.

She threw out a number and had her lawyer and accountant begin researching the company, which at the time she did not know was Lume. The company has opened 12 other retail stores in the state, including one in Petersburg.

Once her team confirmed the offer was legitimate, she spent a few days weighing the decision before ultimately accepting.

“The offer was for a lot more than I would have normally gotten for a restaurant,” she said. “I felt a lot more comfortable knowing it was from a reputable company.”

While such businesses are controversial to some Monroe County residents, she said she felt better about her choice after touring the store located in Petersburg.

The building, which is under heavy surveillance and monitored by onsite security guards, was modern, clean and well-maintained, she said, adding that Lume will likely do the same in whatever retail space it opens at her former restaurant.

“I thought I was walking into a high-end jewelry store,” Voukides. “I’ve travelled the world … everything looked beautiful in there.”

Since making the announcement, her staff of 18 has dwindled to seven as waitresses and kitchen workers find new employment.

The overall reaction from them has been largely positive, Voukides said.

“My employees were happy for me because they know I have been here so long,” she added. “They were pretty excited for me. … They’ve grown up with me and I got to watch them have their own kids.

“And then some of those kids have ended up coming to work for me. (My staff) has been amazing.”

As for the future, Voukides doesn’t have any concrete plans, though she is looking forward to spending time with her family.

Because of COVID-19, she hasn’t seen them in months. She’d also like to visit her mother in Greece, who she hasn’t seen in five years, but that’s dependent on travel restrictions.

“With COVID, everything is up in the air,” Voukides said. “I’m not making anymore decisions right now.”

Dena’s Family Restaurant is open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. for dine-in service and from 3-7 p.m. for takeout. On Nov. 22, it will host a fundraiser for Disabled American Veterans, donating proceeds to the organization.

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