PEABODY — How will you be able to tell that a new owner has taken over at the Wardhurst Grille in South Peabody?
“You won’t,” said Spero Demakes, who will be running the restaurant once the paperwork is completed. “The restaurant is an institution, and I’d be crazy to go in there and blow it up.”
Demakes, 40, has purchased the restaurant from longtime owner Peter Routses, who is retiring at age 68. Routses followed his father into the restaurant business and has been running the popular eatery for decades. He leaves for a chance to rest and enjoy life with his wife, Sue.
“I’m getting out while I’ve got my health,” he said. “I want to enjoy a few things I’ve been putting off. Enjoy my grandchildren.”
George Routses, Peter’s father, opened his first restaurant in 1949. It was natural for his son to follow in his footsteps. The Wardhurst, famous for its shish kebab and lamb dishes, developed a solid reputation in South Peabody.
“Being an only child,” Peter said, “my father said, ‘You better know how to run this, kid. It’s going to be yours.’ So, I got into the restaurant business, and I’ve had no regrets. It’s been good for the family. ... My customers — I’ll miss them the most. We made a lot of wonderful friendships. My customers are like family to me.”
Even so, it wasn’t always easy work. Routses said that he leaves with steel rods implanted in his back. His dad left in a wheelchair.
“Just too many hours,” he said. “Too many double shifts, on his feet all the time.”
The hard work paid dividends.
“The Wardhurst is a tradition for people in Peabody,” said Bill Power, a longtime member of the city’s historical society. “I often meet people down there.”