John Karuntzos, owner of Windy City Café, has spent practically his entire adult life in the restaurant industry. Originally from Greece, he launched his first restaurant in Canada, before moving to Chicago.
When retirement beckoned, Karuntzos relocated to Arizona looking for warm weather and an easier lifestyle. No luck: he couldn’t stay out of the restaurant game.
“My Dad came out here to retire, but being in the restaurant business for so long, he ended starting up another restaurant,” George Karuntzos, John’s son, said.
George, a sergeant for the Chicago Police Department, can’t stay away from Arizona either, visiting Tempe almost every month.
The restaurant business was the Karuntzos family’s life blood, and still is for many of the family members.
“We wanted to bring a Chicago-style restaurant out into this area,” George said. “Chicago has some of the best food in the world, without a doubt, so we wanted to bring a little piece of Chicago to Arizona.”
John started a number of restaurants in the Chicago area, eventually passing them on to his daughters, who still run the those. John and his wife manage Tempe’s Windy City, which opened in October 2009.
George, who has helped his Dad in the restaurant business since he was a kid, said many people from the Chicago area come into Windy City and immediately become friends within the restaurant’s community.
“I would say the majority of the people who come here have lived in Chicago; everyone’s had some kind of connection to that area,” he said. “It’s just nice for the people around here to have a little neighborhood of Chicago.”
Most of the servers, if not all, also grew up in that area.
The difference, George said, is he tends to find that people here are much more laid back compared to the fast-paced city life of Chicago.
“Over there, it’s very hectic. But I absolutely love it,” he said. “I try to come out here every month, or every other month, just to kind of get away from the stress out there.”
Windy City Café’s menu consists of a variety of different foods normally found in Chicago restaurants.
“Chicago is a huge melting pot of everything. You get every ethnic background, and everything gets mixed together – that’s what’s great about such a large city.”
Complimentary soups and desserts come with Windy City’s meals, a concept normally found at mom-and-pop restaurants in the Midwest.
“We kind of run a family business, which is different out here,” George said. “You get that a lot in Chicago, but not so much out here. I think that’s a big difference.”
George, who runs a Chicago PD narcotics unit in organized crime, said he is always surprised with how mellow the Tempe area is.
“I found it shocking that at 8 o’clock at night, there are not very many people driving around on the streets,” he said.
“At 8 o’clock in Chicago, you can’t even move there’s so much traffic in Chicago, anywhere you are.”
Here, George said, he finds everyone to be very open.
“The people out here are just great,” he said. “People come in and you just connect with them; we consider everyone here part of the family.”