01/10/2014 09:46 EST | Updated 03/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Burnaby restaurant institution closing after 41 years

Eugene Siormanolakis stands next to his two-year-old grandson in the kitchen at Romana Pizza and Steak House in Burnaby Heights. 

"More olives?," he asks. 

More olives end up in Pavlo's mouth than on the pizza. Eugene chuckles, and declares, "you must be Greek."

Eugene and his wife Europe are at the restaurant seven days a week. The work they've put in has taken it's toll.

"There is no family sitting dinner," says Europe. "We're all sitting down and the phone is going to ring."

Last month, the couple announced they're retiring. Eugene guesses his hands have pressed over a million pizzas. Now they are tired. He demonstrates the motion he makes daily, thumping his hands on the table.

"How I'm going to do it without the pizzas, I don't know. But so far, I'm happy," he says. 

When Eugene opened the restaurant in 1973, this was a quiet neighbourhood, with only a handful of restaurants along Hastings. Now all that has changed. An art studio is next door, with both a gym and a yoga studio on the corner. High-end cafes now line the street, along with restaurants of every ethnicity.

"For the first time in 41 years, we actually have foot traffic," says daughter Jenny Siormanolakis. "In the past three or four years, this area has definitely started changing. It's almost become more the family end of the Heights."

While the Eugene and Europe are ready for a vacation, it wasn't an easy decision to leave the restaurant behind. Jenny wrote up the announcement for the Facebook page.

"I, for the life of me, I could not hit send," she says. "I could not hit that button to send it out to the masses."

Jenny says the family held hands, and said a prayer, and finally it was Eugene who tapped the iPad to finalize the post.

Family life amongst the tables

It wasn't just hard for Eugene and Europe. Jenny and her sister, Nora Iliakis, were faced with the option of taking over and continuing the family tradition. Both have worked at Romana since they were teenagers, and both know firsthand how much work it is to run a restaurant.

"I think about it all the time," says Nora.

"I just can't commit. With a young family, and providing to be there for them."

Each of the family members has a lifetime of memories from the restaurant. Jenny had her civil marriage ceremony there, and Europe says seeing her children and grandchildren play among the tables is what will stick with her most.

Eugene's favourite memories of the restaurant are how he's seen it touch others.

"I did a delivery once," he says. "The lady told me, 'These pizzas are for my mother-in-law,' — the last wishes, she was dying."

He says he's had five different orders where someone's last wish has been for a last bite of Romana pizza.

The final pizzas will be served on March 1. The business is up for sale, and they're still hoping someone will take over the tradition of making home-style pizzas in Burnaby Heights.

CBC is "In Your Neighbourhood". Join us for a live remote broadcast of CBC Radio One's 'The Early Edition' and 'On the Coast' in Burnaby at Caffè Artigiano (4359 East Hastings).

Google Maps: Romana Pizza and Steak House