Tony's Cafe has gone full circle in the Provias family. It was begun by Tony and now is in the hands of Tony again.
The first Tony Provias started the restaurant in 1921 when he came to Aberdeen from his native Greece. To keep it all in the family, his grandson, Tony, took it over a little over a month ago.
Actually, Tony's wife, Brandi, runs the restaurant, while he takes care of another family business, Tenn-Tom Pallet Company.
Chris Provias and his wife, Frankie, were the second generation entrepreneurs, raising their family in the restaurant business. They have three children, Nina, Laurenda and Tony. Frankie said the restaurant made a great "babysitter." "The kids would just go down there and sit at the counter, and then when they got older they helped out." Back then, she said they would open at 4 a.m. and stay open until around midnight.
Tony, Chris' son, remembers those days, too. He said when he was 12 years old, he would open the cafe at 5 a.m., come over and unlock the building, get the stove turned on and grits cooking. "A lot of times I would cook short orders for the early customers," he said, "before the cook got here." The family lived directly behind the restaurant, so it wasn't too big a deal for a 12-year-old to get there that early and open up.
Now, Chris and Frankie are the ones who help out, lending a hand to their children who have run the restaurant. Laurenda ran it until just recently. Tony and Brandi took over on January 22. Brandi got into the family business before they married. Their wedding was February 23, and now her kids sometimes come early in the morning with her to the cafe and wait tables. She has three children, Jacob, 11; Maggie, 10; and Thomas, 6.
Tony's has been a family business from the beginning. It is the oldest family owned restaurant in the state of Mississippi, now celebrating 86 years in business. Not only have Chris' and Frankie's children been involved over the years, but their grandchildren can be seen there quite often, especially on holidays and during the summer. Nina, who worked first as a nurse and now a nurse practitioner, lends all three of her children at different times. Tyki Jurney, Nina's son and Tony's "war hero nephew," is working there now. He recently served a tour of duty in Iraq, along with his dad, Bubba Jurney. An Ole Miss graduate in journalism, he is helping out now while he waits (hopefully) to get into law school. His sisters, Sara and Delta, have been seen there during the summer for several years.
A couple of times over the years, the cafe has been managed by someone outside the family, but it keeps making its way back to the capable Provias hands. For a good many years, Tony took care of another family business, Provias Brothers Building Supply, which has since been sold and is now East Mississippi Lumber.
Laurenda, who had run the cafe for a good many years, was interested in doing something else. She was going into interior design, something Tony said she has always wanted to do, and Brandi added design is something in which she is gifted.
Brandi said, "Tony called me and told me Laurenda is going to close the restaurant." When she asked him what they would do, Tony said they would find somebody to take it. Brandi said she called him back a couple of hours later and asked, "Why don't we do it?"
Tony said this is something Brandi has always wanted to do and Tony's was never closed a day in the transfer of management. He said Brandi, who is from Louisville, has a background in accounting, so with the combination of numbers and food, running a restaurant is a good idea.
Over the years, there have been some changes for Tony's. There was an expansion many years ago, taking in the building next door. The hours have been shortened. Tony's only serves breakfast and lunch now, closing at 2 in the afternoon. Tony and Brandi don't plan any physical changes to the cafe, which still boasts a counter with several stools for lone diners who like to chat with other "regulars." They are making some changes in the menu and have a different special every day. Tony said everyone loves Brandi's homemade taco soup, pimento and cheese and jambalya. She often makes her own desserts, he said, which is her favorite thing to cook.
"I've enjoyed it so far," said Brandi. It is a big change from the office job she had before.
The present Proviases plan to reinstitute something from Tony's past, Tony's Night Out on Fridays, not weekly to start, just testing the water to see how it will be received. The cafe will look a little fancier on those nights and she said they will offer three specials for diners, things like ribeye steaks, shrimp spaghetti and maybe chicken cordon bleu. This will happen in the very near future, Tony said, maybe within a couple of weeks. There will be different specials for each Tony's Night Out, with steak finding a regular place, though.
They are also looking at a Sunday lunch buffet.
Tony's has been a part of the life of Aberdeen for all these years as well as a part of the Proviases' lives. "It's like home for many people," said Chris, who was born in the house right behind and raised in the restaurant. Chris started working at the cafe in the 1950s and ran it for many years, then it was run by a cousin, until Laurenda took over. He considers the business important for people who work downtown, both for the food it provides and the relaxing atmosphere. Much of the restaurant's "flavor" comes from the people who have kept Tony's going all these years, the Proviases. Chris is famous for his antics and Tony has his moments.
"I'm tickled that Brandi has come to us and wants to run it," Chris said. "Nothing makes me happier than to have my offspring or Brandi run it and be successful."
For the future, he hopes it remains in the family, and that another generation of "Proviases" will want to maintain its family legacy.