FRASER — The restaurant business is, and has always been, a family business for Eugene Kasapis.
Throughout high school, he worked in his dad’s restaurant in Greektown alongside his brothers Steve and Gus Kasapis. And three months before graduating, he and his brothers opened up their own restaurant in downtown Detroit.
Now, Kasapis is celebrating 50 years with Ram’s Horn. The franchise has had locations in nearly every community in metro Detroit over the decades. His children, Eugene J. Kasapis Jr. and Kristy Kasapis Panos, have worked alongside him.
Ram’s Horn has weathered three economic recessions, the emergence of “foodies” and the expansion with franchisees to still be serving quality food, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And that is all because of the hard work his family continues to put in every day.
“We like it. It is challenging and fun,” Kasapis said. “We have a menu that caters to everybody, to the foodies and the millennials. We try to be innovative, and we aren’t afraid to step in and try something new.”
Kasapis’ father owned and operated a restaurant for 30 years before he and his brothers started running Receiving Lunch in 1962 across the street from Receiving Hospital in Detroit. Five years later, the first Ram’s Horn opened in Cadillac Square downtown.
That happened to come right after the 1967 riots, but the brothers weren’t about to let the unrest deter their goal.
“It was a little rough, but we survived it and stayed there,” Kasapis said. “Fifty years ago, that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to work. Our dream was to open up a nicer, fancier restaurant that was more modern and more up-to-date, and that is how Ram’s Horn was born.”
While Ram’s Horn was a dream, the name wasn’t one that the family had written down for years waiting to open. Rather, Kasapis said, he and his wife were just looking through travel books looking for a name that would have national appeal.
The name, he said, was part of the brand and needed to appeal to locals and people traveling through the area. That’s all there is to the story, he said, even if his kids think there is more to the name.
“They said they were just looking at books and came up with the name, but I still don’t believe them,” Kasapis Panos said. “I was like, ‘That’s it!’ There has to be more to the name, but they have stuck to that story.”
The second Ram’s Horn opened in 1968 in Livonia, and the third followed in 1970 at Dequindre and 13 Mile Road in Warren — now the longest-operating Ram’s Horn in metro Detroit.
With Detroit, and the west side and east side suburbs now covered, Kasapis started franchising the restaurant in 1974.
The plan was always to franchise, Kasapis said. And at its peak, there were around 40 Ram’s Horn restaurants open in the area, with about 40 percent of them run by the family.
But, the company wasn’t immune to a recession, and as the economy took negative turns in the 70s, 80s and 2000s, Ram’s Horn had to adjust. Restaurants closed if they weren’t working, and now there are 16 restaurants, five of which are corporate owned.
However, Kasapis said it was sticking with family, and even extended family in the form of employees, that kept Ram’s Horn around through tough times.
“We have had the ups and downs, but we have been through them and survived,” he said. “As we grew, we grew from within with our people. Even today, we have people who started out as busboys or dishwashers or cooks and grew into the business and eventually got their own restaurant or partnered with us.
“We did whatever we could to make that growth happen.”
In 1997, the newest Ram’s Horn was opened in Westland by Kasapis’ kids. Kasapis Jr. and Kasapis Panos partnered to begin operations on Wayne Road, and that restaurant is still going strong today, they said.
Kasapis Jr. started peeling potatoes at the age of 12 at the Dequindre Road restaurant and said he would often be dropped off by his dad to bus tables. Similarly, Kasapis Panos started at the same location as a hostess.
“I enjoy it. It is in my blood now,” Kasapis Jr. said. “I have to do something productive and work-related every day now.”
The two like to bounce ideas off each other to create new menu items. Sometimes they are hits and sometimes customers aren’t sure what to make of it, such as Kasapis Jr.’s poblano pepper mayo, he joked.
It’s not a job for everyone, Kasapis Panos said, but one she and her brother were born into.
“It is a constant challenge, and not one day to the next day is the same,” she said. “You have to be a people person. It is a high-energy job and you need that self motivation to get through some of the tougher days. But, every day I leave, I do feel like I have accomplished something.”
After 50 years, Ram’s Horn still prides itself on its food. People may not think of Ram’s Head when they think of quality food, Kasapis Panos said, but the food is made in-house with fresh ingredients.
Kasapis said they keep up with what is popular in the food industry and try to incorporate what they can. They also make sure to remodel and update restaurants about every four years so the dining rooms don’t feel dated.
The family is open to bringing on more franchisees and opening more restaurants. Potentially, they could be further west near Howell and Brighton.
Until then, Kasapis said they will continue to provide top-notch service and be a place where anyone in the family can find something to enjoy.
“We cater to the people, and we have been doing it so long, it comes easy to us,” he said. “We want to build more Horns and we will just keep going.”
In 1967, the world’s first Ram’s Horn restaurant opened in Cadillac Square, in the heart of Detroit.
Brothers Gus, Steve, and Gene Kasapis launched the restaurant, hoping to treat families to the kind of simple comfort food that’s still loved today. Their father, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1915, had run the Kasapis Family Restaurant in Greektown, so operating diner-style restaurants was already a family business.
The restaurant quickly grew, and began opening locations in the suburbs, including a Warren location that opened shortly after the original Cadillac Square spot. Though that original location shuttered long ago, Ram’s Horn is still a staple for many families and 16 locations exist from Saint Clair Shores to Taylor.
This year Ram’s Horn is celebrating 50 years in business, where the company’s two living co-founders are still an active component. A true family business, three generations of the Kasapis family are currently involved in corporate business affairs in one way or another.
Once a fleet of 37 restaurants, the Ram’s Horn company shrunk by almost half during the Great Recession, when many franchises simply couldn’t weather the hard economic times.
But Hunter Marcuson, grandson of Gus Kasapis, says the company is on the upswing, with some new ideas in the works.
While they plan to keep all current traditional Ram’s Horn locations in operation, they’re in the beginning phase of planning a new concept that will be a little more “hip.” The move will help keep the company relevant as they move into the next 50 years.
“Things have been growing, going in right direction,” Marcuson says. “But, the old-style diner is kind of like a dinosaur. You know, Applebees just closed like 200 locations, so its kind of grim.”
The concept, which could go by a name like Ram’s Horn Cafe or Ram’s Horn select, will serve the 15-25 most popular menu items (the company has over 90 on its current menu) and the restaurant will have more modern decor. It’s still in the “rough stages of development,” but will give the old brand a new look.
This new pivot will allow the company to remain loyal to its regular customers while connecting with a new generation.
In a local food landscape that thrives on farm-to-table meals and locally-sourced ingredients, Ram’s Horn has long been ahead of that curve. Marcuson says at least 80 percent of their vendors are based in metro Detroit, including Eastern Market’s Grobbel corned beef.
Further, Marcuson says the company will celebrate its 50th birthday by offering deals on its newly opened Instagram page and via Facebook. He hopes the social media platforms will help bring new customers into the traditional family style restaurants.
With 16 locations serving breakfast all day, hot coffee, made-from-scratch meatloaf and a variety of pies, Ram’s Horn restaurants seem to blend in to the local landscape all around suburban Detroit.
I knew that Ram’s Horn was a local, clean and quick spot to get an all-American diner-quality meal and unlimited coffee 24/7 whether you were on the east side or the west, but until I sat down with three generations of the Ram’s Horn family I had no idea how far deeply rooted the company is in Detroit restaurant history.
The Kasapis brothers — Eugene, Constantinos (Gus) and late brother Steve — opened the first Ram’s Horn in Cadillac Square in 1967, just after the summer of the city’s riots/rebellion. They already had years of restaurant experience under their belt working with their father, Demetri Kasapis, at his Receiving Lunch restaurant in Greektown. Around the time Ram’s Horn opened, Receiving Lunch closed when the elder Kasapis retired after 30 years.
By 1970, the brothers had opened a Ram’s Horn in Livonia and another location in Warren. They continued to open diners and franchise others “because it was fun.”
“We like the people, the challenge,” said Eugene Kasapis, whose children Kristy Kasapis Panos and Gene Kasapis own and operate Ram’s Horns today The family owns five locations and franchisees run the other 11.
“We would work with (our franchisees) and make sure they understood the business,” said Eugene, who said he still visits several locations each day. “They followed our system, our recipes, our style of service — service to us was No. 1, food was right there with it, but you had to get it there quickly, and it had to taste good and look good.”
Some of those franchisees like Kirk Ramsey at the Farmington location and Dave Adams from the Southgate Ram’s Horn both started as young employees and went on to own their own restaurants.
Ahead of its 50th anniversary the Kasapis family is looking to keep the Ram’s Horn brand strong. They have the family dining and senior citizen markets down pat, but like many chain restaurants, they know they need to attract young people.
They want diners to know that much of the food is made fresh and in-house. No bagged soup or reheated meatloaf here.
Owner Kristy Kasapis Panos, Eugene’s daughter, said that in spite of facing so much competition and dealing with diners’ changing tastes, the Ram’s Horn brand is stable.
“We’re good, but we want to make it great,” she said, adding that they’ve added trendier items like wraps, fresh spinach, avocado, cibatta rolls to their already huge menu that includes Italian, Mexican, seafood and comfort food favorites as well as the standard sandwiches, salads and soups.
“We’ve stayed true to our quality and freshness of food, making our soups from scratch every day with fresh produce. A lot of places don’t do that any longer.”
Constantinos said that while they’re not a “destination restaurant,” he has been to Detroit’s new spots like Selden Standard, Grey Ghost, Chartreuse Kitchen and Cocktails and spots in Corktown to see what diners are interested in.
“It gives us a pace of what the public is looking for and we try to adapt that into our family dining experience,” he said.
Besides celebrating 50 years since the first Ram’s Horn, the Westland restaurant at 7020 N. Wayne celebrated 20 years in April (with much of the same staff since the day they started). The other Wayne Ram’s Horn at 8590 Middlebelt celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
This fall all locations will celebrate the 50th milestone with customer appreciation specials and giveaways on their Instagram account, @RamsHornRestaurantOfficial.