A devoted restaurateur for 30 years, Jenny Xenakis figured she was ready to put away the durable utensils, shed the apron and fill the last cook orders.
No more sweating over a stove, tending tables, subbing for somebody else’s shift or cleaning counters, she told herself.
She was wrong. She fidgeted in retirement.
“I wasn’t ready for that rocking chair,” she said while occupying one of the bench seats inside Trotter’s, her new business domain. “I was home, watching CNN news and thinking, ‘This is not me.’
“I’m the happiest person in the world when I’m in the kitchen,” she added. “It’s where I like to try new things.”
And try it at a new spot.
An ambitious Xenakis persuaded her husband, Steve, a longtime restaurateur himself, to get back into the game.
When Trotter’s – Auburn’s iconic family-run restaurant since 1971 – was up for sale, they jumped at the chance. The descriptive sales pitch on the Internet listings said one thing, but a timely visit clearly said another.
“To me, it had class,” Jenny Xenakis said. “This could go any way I want it to go. It felt good.”
So on impulse the couple bought the popular restaurant off Harvey Road last month, less than a year after they had decided to move to the area from Houston to be closer to Jenny’s two daughters.
“I thought she was crazy,” Steve Xenakis said, rolling his eyes. “But this keeps us busy, and she really missed it.”
The Xenakis, the restaurant’s second new owners in two years, are committed to making it work.
“It’s fun. It’s a family feeling again,” said Mike Braxton, the restaurant’s manager for the last four years. “They didn’t come in here to change a lot of things, but they did bring in a lot of home-made food.”
Some things will change, but the trusted name and proven menu will stay the same. Burgers will still be the toast of Tuesdays.
The Trott family will stay in the mix as well, offering suggestions and decor ideas.
The upstairs banquet room, which holds anywhere from 20 to 60 people, will be available for functions.
Some of the introductory specials, however, will be different, savoring of Jenny’s Italian heritage and Steve’s Greek spice.
Sundays, for instance, will be pasta nights, serving up home-made favorites, like tasty lasagna, and freshly concocted soups.
“For me, I get the itch,” Jenny Xenakis said. “I just love to cook.”
Jenny’s Italian family handed that passion down through the generations. She learned a thing or two from her grandmother, who went to school to become an opera starlet but wound up working as a cook for a wealthy family in the Province of Milano.
While her mother didn’t particularly enjoy cooking, Jenny embraced it.
“This sort of thing skips a generation,” she surmised.
Jenny Xenakis, who immigrated to the United States in 1967, ended up owning her own 24-hour restaurant in Houston. That’s where she met Steve, who immigrated to the U.S. from his native Athens during the 1950s and began a 25-year career in the full-service restaurant business.
After a long stretch of operating their around-the-clock eateries, they eventually sold their businesses in Texas and joined family in the Puget Sound area last October.
But restless in retirement, they soon found themselves back in the family restaurant game.
Steve Xenakis, 74, wasn’t sure he would be back in the business, but now that he is, he has his wife’s full support. He shares her enthusiasm.
“Jenny’s always busy,” he said. “She’s hard working, really smart and likes to be with people.”
The buzz is definitely back.
“I like the business,” said Jenny Xenakis, still full of energy at 62. “You get the rush.
“I enjoy the people. I love to cook. It makes me feel alive.”
• Business: Trotter’s family restaurant
• Location: 825 Harvey Road NE, Auburn
• Hours: 8 a.m.-9 p.m. (Sunday-Thursday); 8 a.m.-10 p.m. (Friday, Saturday).
• Phone: 253-833-2323