During the 50-year existence of the Coroneoses' labor of love, Dimitri's has picked up its share of awards. In early October, the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce presented James and Millie with its Business Person of the Year award.
But the Coroneoses' most cherished prize is their family. Now an airline pilot, their son, Lambi, worked at the restaurant in the 1990s. Their other daughter, Christina, now an operations manager for a building company, worked at the restaurant until 2007.
"Raising children and doing business is not easy," said Millie. "The kids were always here, and the grandchildren are here just like they were. And we're very proud of Tom and Litsa for the way they run the restaurant. They have followed in our footsteps very well."
The business is closed on Mondays so that everyone can spend time with their families.
"In the beginning, I worked seven days a week for five straight years," Coroneos said. "Finally, I decided to close the business on Mondays and Tuesdays. I was very conscientious with the business, and I had control of it. But I stayed small, in order to raise my family. If I did expand, I wouldn't have been able to spend any time with the family at all. We always tried to combine the business and the family, and it's worked very well."
While hundreds of Baltimore-area restaurants have opened and closed in the past 50 years, Dimitri's has thrived.
"You have to go into this business with a passion," Litsa Werthen said. "You can't just want to have a restaurant so that you can come in and sit on a bar stool. That's not the proper equation. You've got to live and breathe it."
"It's not a good business for absentee owners," said her husband, who joined Dimitri's in the late 1990s. "For most of the 50 years, someone in the family has been here during the busy part of the day."
Tom and Litsa Wethern stressed that several employees have worked for the restaurant for decades. Hostess Betty Burris has been a familiar face to patrons since the 1980s. Salvatore Alfeo, from Sicily, has been Dimitri's master chef for more than 10 years. Matthew Thompson, a manager, has been at Dimitri's since 2001, and Bonnie Bewley, another manager, has been a fixture since 1990. Former manager Elmer Rutherford started in the 1960s and retired in 2002.
"A lot of customers realize that we have nice people working here, and that they've been here for a long time," said Litsa. "And that speaks volumes."