The Vegas Cafe hits a half-century

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

Helen Chiappetta, Vegas Cafe’s proprietor, talks with a customer over morning coffee. (Photo courtesy of Helen Chiappetta and Haley Edwards)

A special ribbon-cutting ceremony took place on May 1 at The Vegas Café in the historic downtown area of Antioch to mark its 50th anniversary.  

The family-owned restaurant with good homemade comfort food, a side dish of friendly conversation and great coffee just seems like it’s been there forever. 

The Katris family started the restaurant in 1974 as a 24-hour operation with a full menu, pizza and salad bar. They have remodeled several times since then including an expansion into an adjacent building. 

I was overwhelmed by the love and support at the ceremony, and all day,” said proprietor Helen Chiappetta. I feel extremely blessed to be part of such a wonderful community. My parents, Chris and Nikki Katris, along with my uncle, John, and his wife, Gail, put their hearts and souls into opening the business. Uncle John, he was a betting man and went to Las Vegas, where he won some money to buy the building. 

They named it, The Las Vegas Restaurant,” she said. I still have debates with my parents over the actual start date … 1972, or 1974. I started working there, when I was 11, bussing tables in 1984. It was fun and exciting because you want to work. In high school, not so much … canceling plans, and going in because they were short of help.” 

The hours were tweaked to just breakfast and lunch after they remodeled in 2015, and the name shortened to The Vegas Café. When the restaurant was open around the clock, members from different law enforcement agencies made it a default home for meals, prior to starting and going off their shifts. 

I first started my career with the Antioch police department nearly 25 years ago, and The Vegas Café was open 24 hours,” said police chief Geoff Guttschow. It always brought in a unique crowd in the early morning hours, with a mix of locals, visitors, people getting ready to head to work and people just ending their night.” 

Chiappetta said she wasn’t allowed to work the overnight shifts, early on.  

That was because it was so crazy, with the bars closing, and the type of clientele that would come Once, we had a streaker run through the restaurant, and the family said, ‘no, you won’t be exposed to this.’”

The Vegas Café is at 914 Main Street and the building held a succession of restaurants starting in 1927, according to a 2017 text found at the Lakes Region Historical Society. 

It was home to the Brook State Bank, first,” said Ainsley Wonderling, the historical societys director.

There were lots of eating places and fountain grills, but we have the Katris family buying the business in 1972, and renaming it as The Las Vegas Restaurant. Antioch is very grateful to the Katris family. We are all better off, and fed, thanks to their presence on Main Street for fifty-plus years.” 

The restaurant has a community vibe, and a staff that is more like an extended family.  

I have to acknowledge that…otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything,” said Chiappetta. I also live in Antioch, and it is the best community to raise a family in. For me, I love cooking dinner at home for my family, making meatballs and spaghetti…cooking is very relaxing.” 

Antioch Mayor Scott Gartner said, Throughout the years, The Vegas Café has been a cherished landmark in our community, bringing family, friends, neighbors, and visitors together. I’m excited to join the celebration and look forward to many more years for this beloved institution. I bring my family

The original backdoor entrance to The Las Vegas Restaurant, circa 1975. (Photo courtesy of the Lakes Region Historical Society)

there, all the time, and always run into people I know.” 

Chiappetta wants to keep working, as long as possible. Her two children have also worked at the restaurant and graduated college. She has encouraged them to pursue their dreams,” and always look forward. 

My parents are now retired, and out of four children, my brother and I took an interest running the place,” she said. My children might not be interested, but I have lots of nieces and nephews. This is our legacy, a family legacy.”