Imagine going to a restaurant where the owner knows your name and has your steaming cuppa joe and two egg platter -- cooked over easy with wheat toast, just as you like it -- on the table before you even put down your menu. In one corner, local civil servants, from the postman to the police officers whose cruiser watches over the restaurant's side parking lot, joke with a friendly brunette waitress who appears to have known them all for decades. In another corner, four generations of one family occupy a large table.
This surreal encounter isn't a scene from a 1960s flick, or even the modern reality at a small-town diner in Podunk, Indiana. It's this anachronistic atmosphere that brings locals back to Sunnyslope's landmark Eye Opener Family Restaurant time and again. After receiving a city grant, current owners Halim and Susana Mokbel (aided by Desert Mission Neighborhood Renewal) recently restored the exterior of the sloping ranch building near "S" Mountain in the north Phoenix neighborhood of Sunnyslope to its original 1960s glory (peep Robrt Pela's recent story on the quaint 'hood).
This past Tuesday at 11 a.m., the Mokbels unveiled Eye Opener's facelift to dozens of regular customers, with the help of Phoenix Councilman Bill Gates and other prominent community members. In a turn of events completely consistent with the restaurant's quirkiness, the token "big scissors" were misplaced, leaving the group to cut the giant yellow ribbon on the door with a pair of tiny kitchen shears.
"Here, we don't have customers. They're all friends," Mokbel told New Times from his perch behind the cash register. "It's a business, yes, but it's more than that. It's a community." Coming from anyone else in Phoenix that would probably be a hollow marketing pitch. But at the Eye Opener, it's the truth. In the five minutes Mokbel stood behind the counter, he greeted a handful of incoming customers by name, pausing from his chats with regulars to help an elderly woman through the door.
It's almost unbelievable to see that kind of courtesy in a big-city known for its apathy.
The Eye Opener is a landmark in more ways than one. Originally built in 1960 by Frank Guglielimo as Pedro's Mexican Restaurant, the property was bought by Tom & Tiny Bastitsas in the early '80s and later by the Mokbels in 2003. As far as Mokbel knows, it's always been a restaurant. He even has a bit of ephemera from the original Pedro's, including a menu featuring nickel cokes and ten-cent pizza.
Nowadays, the menu runs more towards typical greasy spoon fare, with omelets and biscuits & gravy being some of Eye Opener's more popular dishes. At the grand opening, the Mokbels catered trays of Mediterranean style foods in addition to the homemade biscuits. "We tried to have Greek Wednesdays at one point," Susana Mokbel revealed. "But no one was eating it!" Content to forgo their usual meat-and-eggs combo in favor of more exotic fare in honor of their hosts, most customers dug into the free moussaka and hummus without complaint.
Architects were on hand to discuss plans for renovating nearby Sunnyslope buildings; local designers have also drawn up plans for a total interior renovation of the Eye Opener. For now, the green vinyl, massive dining room mirror and floral accents will stay put -- along with the restaurant's cheeky owner. "Everyone panicked when I said I would use the 'f' word today," Halim Mokbel quipped during a break in the opening day crowds. "I meant fun. And family."
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Yeah, it's hard not to love this place.
The Eye Opener Family Restaurant, located at 524 West Hatcher Road in Phoenix, is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.