Last fall, about 22 miles north of Greektown, the New Hellas restaurant was about to open on Northwestern Highway.
“A legendary restaurant name from Greektown’s past will be resurrected Thursday in Farmington Hills , when a new Hellas Greek restaurant opens in the former home of Morels,” wrote Sylvia Rector, the Detroit Free Press restaurant critic.
The news undoubtedly stirred sweet feelings of nostalgia for fans who remembered fondly the Hellas restaurant, one of the cornerstones of Greektown on Monroe Street up until the time it closed its doors in 2008.
But for Gus Malliaras, the great grandson of James Anton, founder of Hellas in Greektown, the news triggered a visceral response.
“I was furious,” he recalls, explaining that he’d been looking for a location in Detroit to open a restaurant under the “New Hellas” name, and he didn’t want it being used by anyone else. He insisted his family owned the name.
“They’re claiming to be us,” he said of the suburban restaurant.
Last Sept. 19, his family attorney Martin C. Weisman fired off a letter to the Farmington Hills restaurant demanding “you cease and desist from any and all references to the words ‘New Hellas’ and the ‘New Hellas Restaurant in Greek Town’ or represent yourself as being the owner of the same.”
The Farmington Hills owners offered to settle the matter out of court, but they wanted to keep the name, says Milliaras.
On Jan. 13, the Malliaras family filed a trademark lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Detroit to try and take the name back.
The battle has now pitted the Malliaras, 30, and his family against the operators of the Farmington Hills eatery, Demetrios (Jimmy) Papatriantaflyllou, a former partner at the downtown Greektown restaurant, Tony Hadjisofroniou, a former waiter there and at other restaurants on the strip, and Robert Asmar, the landlord who is trying to help the restaurant succeed.
“I don’t think they have a right to claim the name,” says Asmar. “We called the state of Michigan and they said the name is available so we got approval to use the name.”
James Anton first opened Hellas in Greektown in 1901. In 1950, he passed away and his son Gus Anton took over the business. In the early 1960s, Demetrios Papatriantaflyllou started working as a cook, and in 1972 he became a partner. In 1986, he says he gave up his interest in the restaurant to his wife as a part of a divorce settlement.
Gus Mallairas says he started working there at age 16, and stuck around for eight years, helping out his grandfather, up until 2008.
“Everything I learned working with my grandpa made me love this business,” says Malliaras.
In 2008, Gus Anton announced he was closing. He told the Detroit News that no one in the family wanted to carry the torch. The family sold the building to wealthy businessman Ted Gatzaros, who talked about opening an Italian restaurant there. The building was eventually razed. Gatzaros died early last year, and the lot remains empty.
The lawsuit filed in January states that after Papatriantaflyllou was no longer a partner, Hellas’ owner Gus Anton and his wife Zoel, filed incorporation papers for the name “New Hellas, Inc.” At that time, the lawsuit said, Papatriantaflyllou “had no ownership claim, interest or right to the name 'New Hellas' or any of its related assumed names.”
The lawsuit is demanding that the defendants stop using the name to “to destroy Plaintiff’s common law trademark and or/trade name" and is "injuring the business reputation."
Papatriantaflyllou, who insists he had been a 50-50 partner, says he’s done nothing wrong. The lawsuit claims he was a minority partner.
“I don’t think the family has any rights” to the name at this point Papatriantaflyllou said.
The hype about the resurrection of New Hellas not only came from the Free Press but other publications as well.
Long-time restaurant critic Molly Abraham wrote in the Detroit News:
Now there’s a new New Hellas, but it’s far from the original location. The old café has been reinvented by Greektown veterans Demetrios (Jimmy) Papatriantafyllou and Tony Hadjisofroniou. Papatriantafyllou was one of the chefs at New Hellas and a partner with the late Gus Anton, while Hadjisofroniou worked up and down the street for many years from the Parthenon to Cyprus Taverna and New Hellas. jimmy helped…
The new space is too cavernous to replicate a cozy Greek café. But perhaps over time the proprietors will be able to soften the corporate look and give the rooms more warmth. And speaking of large, that goes for the portion sizes, too. The big white plates all but overflow with the generous helpings of sturdy fare that will surely remind people of the old days in Greektown, sadly pretty much of a memory now. Only a couple of the old-line Greek restaurants remain, though the name clings.
Reviews on Yelp! have been mixed, and range from being "overjoyed" to disappointed.
Asmar says that because of ties Demetrios Papatriantafyllou and Tony Hadjisofroniou have had with the old restaurant, he sees no problem hyping the link between the old and the new restaurant.
“These guys are doing a great job. They’re working hard. They’re not doing anything to harm the name Hellas," Asmar said. He added that Papatriantafyllou, a cook, helped maintain the quality of the food at Hellas after the original founder passed.
Hellas Means "Greece"
Asmar says he's skeptical someone could trademark the name "Hellas", which means “Greece” in Greek.
“The Hellas name is like the planet earth. Who could have the right to planet earth?"
That being said, Asmar says that Papatriantafyllou, who is in his late 70s, “feels like this is a family dispute. He feels bad."
Malliaras says it’s ridiculous to use that analogy about planet earth.
“I could open up a Gus’ McDonald’s, but when I put up the golden arches, that would be a problem. That’s where the consumer confusion comes. “
He said anyone can find a variation of a brand name to file with the state. In the end, he says, "they're using our exact logo and they’re causing consumer confusion.”
Malliaras, who owns a hamburger/hot dog joint at 12 Mile Road and Dequindre in Warren, said in 2008 he wasn’t ready at the time to take over the restaurant. Besides, he said, the idea of operating a restaurant in Greektown didn’t seem all that appealing.
“It was the casino atmosphere,” he said. “We just didn’t want to be part of it any more. It wasn't the family atmosphere we were used to.”
He said his grandparents Gus and Zoel Anton always prided themselves on their connection to Detroit, and he points to their legacy. Last year, he and his brother George Malliaras, a doctor in Ohio, accepted an award on their behalf at a party at the Detroit Institute of Arts for the 6th Annual Hellenic Heritage Awards, which recognizes individuals who contribute to the Greek community.
So, he says, the idea of operating New Hellas in the suburbs is contrary to what his grandparents stood for.
“My grandfather would have never wanted to open in Farmington Hills. He always felt it should be in Detroit.”