90 years of Sunrise

WARREN — Fastened to the brick wall at the rear entrance of the Sunrise Inn is a smart-looking sign that proudly announces the downtown restaurant was established at a time in the U.S. when consuming alcohol was illegal.

It was during Prohibition in 1929 when the inn came to be, making this year the 90th for its existence.

“There are two secrets, in my opinion, to the success here,” said co-owner Ken Haidaris, who, with a cousin, operated the restaurant for about 27 years. “First of all, the customers, and then the people that work here. They make the place. Without that, let’s face it …”

Haidaris’ father, Thomas, was already involved in the restaurant business when he took over the inn in 1961. Thomas and his brother, Angelo, bought the restaurant in 1979 and 13 years later, Haidaris said, he and his cousin, Dino, took ownership.

Dino retired at the end of 2018, leaving Haidaris with his 50 percent and three new co-owners — his nephew, Thomas Adair; Bobby Miller, who ascended from dishwasher his first day on the job in 1994; and Miller’s father-in-law, Jack Mahan.

They are responsible for a staff of about 70 full- and part-time employees, some, like Corey Azok, who has a month now under his belt making pizza dough to others like John Bolino with decades working at the inn.

“It really is like a big family here,” Haidaris said. “We want people to stay here and be comfortable. Of course, we want them to get the job done.”

The Sunrise was always at the corner of Elm Road and East Market Street, according to Haidaris, but originally, where the dining and bar area is now, was the entire restaurant early on. The dining area was expanded twice, the third and last time in 1979, when it took over space once occupied by a bicycle shop.

The next door banquet hall was an automotive store bought in the late 1980s and made into the hall. In fact, Haidaris’ sister was the first to use it for her engagement party, he said.

And then about five years ago, the former Zamarelli real estate office and some nearby homes were bought and torn down to provide for more customer parking.

The restaurant can seat 230 customers. The banquet hall can accommodate about 170 more.

Its menu has evolved over the years — pizza still reigns king — and the decor, too, but to a lesser extent. The walls are lined with old photographs, and it’s unlikely much will change in the future.

And that’s what, in part, makes Sunrise, the Sunrise, Haidaris said.

“I think people in the crazy world that we are in love familiarity. There are people that actually come in and that is their booth. It’s really like Cheers, when you walk in, everybody says ‘hi’ because that’s the way it is,” Haidaris said.

There are some changes that have happened, and one planned. Near the rear exit is a scoreboard gotten from the old elementary school in Champion that has been painted scarlet and gray and displays the scores of Ohio State University’s football team during the season. It might be used to display the university’s basketball scores, too.

And then there are plans for a Dave Grohl wall to honor the Warren native who fronts the Foo Fighters. The centerpiece is an autographed Foo Fighters guitar, Haidaris said.

“I wouldn’t do anything different,” said Haidaris, who started in the restaurant business at 9 years old washing dishes at his uncle’s diner on U.S. Route 422. “I got to work with my dad and uncle for years. I consider myself very fortunate because I see people move away and don’t see their family except two or three times a year. I was lucky, my dad and I worked together.”

As far as the future of the inn, said Haidaris, “The basic formula will stay the same. Menu items will come and go. Fads will come and go, but really, if you look at the past, you can see our future.”