As a young girl, Olga Loizon would help her mother make spinach and cheese pie. She would watch her, and then she would play her own role.
“She’d tell me, ‘you sauté the onions and I’ll keep telling you what to do,’ ” she says.
As an adult, Loizon would make the Greek staple for special events at the church and her version became popular in her community.
“I thought maybe I do have something here,” Loizon recalls. Spinach and cheese pie was for special occasions because it can be time consuming to make, she says, “but once a few people got a taste of it and they proved to me that I had something, there was no way I was going to stop.”
Then came the mid- to late-1960’s when founder and Greek-American Olga Loizon returned to the Mediterranean to visit her family. It was an opportunity for her and her three small children to get reconnected with their Greek heritage…and in the process, Olga would discover her legacy.
It was a visit to the local market square that inspired what would soon grow into an iconic Michigan brand. Here, Olga’s children first tasted souvlaki, a traditional Greek sandwich of meat and vegetables wrapped in fresh-baked pita bread. Her kids were hooked…and Olga was inspired.
The first step was buying the vertical rotisserie to cook the meat. It had to be authentic. However, in the 60’s, women didn’t typically own businesses and she was refused the machine. But Detroiters don’t give up. So, she gave her uncle the money to buy the machine for her. Soon, Olga, her kids and her new vertical rotisserie were on their way back to Michigan.
Back home, Olga began to recreate the savory delicacy her children fell in love with in Greece, with one important improvement—the bread. Olga felt the bread in the Mediterranean was a bit grainy and dry. She knew she could do better. For two years, Olga rolled and kneaded, baked and balanced, tasted and tested, until finally she had created the Best Bread on the Planet.
With her secret recipe Olga bread in hand, Olga layered it with seasoned beef and lamb, vine-ripened tomato, sweet onion and her homemade Olgasauce—and the classic culinary delight known as the Original Olga was born.
It was now 1970, and Olga was ready to share The Original Olga with the world. But she wasn’t sure how.
As luck would have it, while shopping at the fondly-remembered Continental Market in Birmingham, Michigan, Olga walked past a “wooden shoe” store that was closing. She stopped. She didn’t want any wooden shoes, she wanted the 10 x 10 space. After securing a loan at her local bank, the first woman to ever achieve that small feat, Olga was in business.
But as some of her naysayers had predicted, no one knew what an Olga was and there was simply no demand for something no one had ever tasted before. Thinking quickly, Olga handed out some free Olga samples to passersby. With one simple taste, Olga had transformed the “unknown and unwanted” into the “celebrated and sought-after.”
“The family stood behind me. The only one was (her husband) John. He says he’s not doing it and he’s not giving me a dime (for the business),” said Loizon, who has been married to her architect husband for 71 years.
While John Loizon didn’t like the idea of his wife opening a restaurant, sometimes he couldn’t stay away.
“We had been open about a year. We’re cutting meat and making pita bread when mom said, ‘Don’t say anything, but your dad is out there.’ He might have been hanging around for a while,” Bill Loizon (her son) said. “Someone had said to him they should go to his wife’s restaurant.”
When you start with the Best Bread on the Planet, you quickly discover that you can “Olga” just about anything, and Olga did. From chicken to ham, veggies to turkey, everything tasted better wrapped in Olga Bread.
Next, she added now classic side dishes—The Olga Salad®, Spinach & Cheese Pie, Peasant Soup and everyone’s favorite, Olga’s Snackers®.
The demand grew and grew. Suddenly, Olga’s went from a single 10 x 10 location to a chain of restaurants throughout Michigan and a family favorite. Olga Loizon has achieved her goal.
Today, Olga’s Kitchen is owned by TEAM Schostak Family Restaurants and boasts locations throughout Michigan and an expanded menu. All the classics that made Olga’s famous are still here, plus a variety of new entrees infused with bold flavors, made fresh daily and served on our famous Olga Bread.
Olga herself is still an active and vital part of Olga’s Kitchen. Her “Olga Visits” to various store locations have become immensely popular among guests old and new. She loves to sit and hear the stories of her loyal fans—of college kids heading right to Olga’s upon their return from college, or out-of-towners insisting on stopping at Olga’s straight from the airport, and small children begging for Olga’s for their birthdays. It warms her heart and justifies her journey.
Update: Olga’s Kitchen founder Olga Loizon died at the age of 92 on January 21, 2019.
Detroit Born and Bread – Olga’s Kitchen: The Story of a Michigan Icon, Olga’s Kitchen Website, Viewed May 22, 2018.
Lauren Abdel–Razzaq, “Olga’s Kitchen looks to future, stays true to heritage“, Detroit News, October 20, 2014
“From Their Table to Yours“, Hour Detroit, October 31, 2016. For generations, families have been passing down recipes that have stood the test of time. Includes recipes.
Alysa Zavala–Offman, “Olga’s Kitchen matriarch turns 91, franchise celebrates with snackers“. Detroit Metro Times, May 23, 2017
TNH Staff, “Olga Loizon, at 92, Visits Her Namesake Olga’s Kitchen in Michigan“, The National Herald, November 22, 2017.
Leanne Rogers, “The original Olga stops in to visit her newly remodeled namesake restaurant in Westland“, Hometown Life Newspapers, November 20, 2017.
JC Reindl, “New Olga’s Kitchen owner opening new locations, renovating older ones”“, Detroit Free Press, March 27, 2018.