Westside landmark closes

The Copal Grill on Wilkinson Boulevard, another iconic Charlotte diner, has closed.

The N.C. Department of Transportation owns the property and plans to demolish the building, said Richard Hancock of DOT.

“There are a lot of emotions there,” says John Balatsias, who ran it with his brother, Terry, and family members. “We decided we should put our efforts and our money elsewhere.”

The 110-seat restaurant opened in 1947 and has had three owners. Kleomenis Balatsias, John's father, bought it in 1965 with business partner Spero Kalevas.

Kleomenis Balatsias retired a few years ago and sold it to NCDOT, which plans a new airport entrance at the site.

Since then, the restaurant has stayed open under a month-to-month lease.

The brothers closed the restaurant temporarily this summer when their father's health failed. Kleomenis Balatsias died July 27.

Meeting building codes to reopen would have been expensive, and the investment didn't seem wise with the entrance road planned.

The Balatsiases hope to start again elsewhere, and bring along the neon sign.

Yet the meat-and-three diner – offering daily specials that come with three accompaniments, such as two sides and bread – is a fading cultural symbol in urban centers.

This one hosted Hollywood actors, singers Charlie Pride and Randy Travis, NASCAR notables and others who enjoyed simple diner food for lunch and hand-cut steaks for dinner.

The pop group Hootie and the Blowfish celebrated the restaurant's relaxed, small-town charm and its weathered neon sign in its 1994 “Let Her Cry” video.