A popular family restaurant chain that has fed region residents for decades is growing, and looking into more locations.
Round the Clock — which has dominated The Times Best of the Region list for nearly two decades — recently expanded to nine from seven restaurants. The sit-down restaurant chain converted Loubie's Pancake House eateries in Hammond and Lansing into 24-hour diners under the Round the Clock brand name.
Sales have since shot up by 35 percent at both locations, said Minas E. Litos, who co-owns five Round the Clocks with his wife, Soula Litos. They opened a Round the Clock Restaurant in Orland Park in 2010, introduced Loubie's in Hammond in 2012 and launched a second Loubie's in Lansing in April.
"We believed Hammond is making a comeback, so we wanted to be positioned in that market," said Minas E. Litos. "We're upbeat about Lansing as well, and it's next to a Super Walmart."
The Loubie's restaurants each employ about 75 workers. They were placed in busy retail areas – the Hammond location is on an outlot of a Menard's big-box store – and feed off the steady traffic of shoppers.
They were originally set up as pancake houses, which traditionally serve only breakfast and lunch. Customers told the owners they were hungry for longer hours and an expanded menu, so they turned the pancake houses into 24-hour restaurants with 50 additional menu items, including steaks, chops, fresh fish and Italian dishes.
Round the Clock – which is known for staples such as club sandwiches, perch, five-egg omelettes and banana Nutella crepes – also offers prices that are about 10 to 15 percent lower than Loubie's.
The family diner has been a region staple since 1963, when Greek immigrant Harry Grivas opened the first Round the Clock on 5th Street in Gary. The company has since grown to employ about 600 workers at restaurants in Highland, Schererville, Merrillville, LaPorte, Chesterton, Valparaiso and Orland Park.
"It's a community staple restaurant," said Minas E. Litos. "It's a home away from home. People feel comfortable."
They are considering the possibility of additional Round the Clock restaurants, including a second location in Hammond. Officials in Harvey, Homewood and East Chicago have tried to court the popular Greek-style diner.
"We're a homegrown restaurant that's been around for 50 years," he said."We have a strong presence in Northwest Indiana, and we're family-owned and independent."
Unlike national chains, Round the Clock tries to keep the same people at the same restaurants for as long as possible, so they build relationships with customers, he said.
Business also has been bolstered recently because of a growing taste for fresh food. Round the Clock has made all its food – including rolls and pies – from scratch on the premises every day for 50 years.
"We do not bring in any processed foods," he said. "People seem to care about that more lately than ever before."