Sometimes, when members of the James Madison High School crew team are cruising down Maple Avenue, they'll call each other to see where they should go for lunch. Oftentimes, the answer is the Amphora restaurant.
"It's really fun," said junior Sarah Hoptman about the Amphora, as she was waiting at the counter on a Sunday afternoon for her cheeseburger. "It's really informal and social."
Her friend next to her, sophomore Amanda Vessey, agreed. "I love Greek food," Vessey said.
Hoptman added, "The Award-Winning Cake is awesome."
Madison crew team members aren't the only diners who frequent Amphora. For the past 25 years and for 24 hours a day, Amphora has seen its share of teen-agers, families and professionals walk through its doors, get a booth and order some breakfast or dinner. Since its opening in the winter of 1978, close to 12 million visitors have come to Amphora, with an average of about 35,000 streaming through its Vienna post per month.
"We've got 25 years of faces that we recognize," said Maria Cholakis, daughter of the two founding owners of the restaurant.
The restaurant, which calls itself a New York-style diner, has never closed in all its years of service. During both last week's snowstorm and the blizzard of 1996, Amphora remained open, serving snowplow drivers and police officers. In 1996, the Pentagon sent humvees to pick up 120 orders of food. All of it, including the buns for the hamburgers, was made from scratch.
"We never close. The only thing we've got to do is chauffeur employees who come to work," Maria Cholakis said.
WITH $6,000 IN THEIR POCKETS in savings from washing dishes and busing tables in New York, childhood friends and Greek immigrants George Bilidas and Louis Cholakis came to Vienna and ran their first restaurant, the Rolling Road. Seven years later in 1969, they opened the Lake Ann Inn in Reston. They operated both establishments until Amphora opened in 1978.
To create the feel of a New York-style diner, they used actual portions of a New York restaurant to construct Amphora. Flatbeds rolled down Maple Avenue, carrying the booths, walls and plumbing of what was to be Amphora. Steve Bilidas, son of George, remembers watching the building slide onto the foundation. He was 11, and he did everything from showing guests to their seats to flipping burgers. Now he helps run the restaurant with his cousins Maria and George Cholakis.
"We've been here so long, it feels like our living room," Maria Cholakis said.
As the restaurant, with a name that means "beautiful vase" in Greek, rooted itself in Vienna, Steve, Maria and George helped out through their teen years. During the summers when Maria wasn't in law school, she brought her friends over so they could waitress and earn some extra cash. George Cholakis went to law school too, but he decided to help Steve run the family business when their parents retired.
"Between us, we've done it all," joked George Cholakis.
The family business became so successful that they created the Knossos in 1980, a restaurant next door specializing in Greek food; the Amphora Bakery in 1988; and the Amphora Diner Deluxe in Herndon in 1997. Maria recently started up Amphora's catering arm.
The family chose Herndon as the location for another diner because its small-town atmosphere reminded them of Vienna.
"It's got a really small hometown feeling, so we really know the people who live here," Maria Cholakis said of Vienna.
NOW THAT AMPHORA IS 25, the cousins say they've seen families come full circle. Many of the teen-agers who spill themselves into the booths now had parents who did the same thing at Amphora when they were teens.
"They all have a connection to it," said both Maria and Steve.
Even those without teen-agers like to frequent Amphora. One couple even had their wedding reception at Amphora, because they met there.
Vienna resident Steve Gill has come to Amphora every day for breakfast for the past 1 1/2 years. He's also come for dinner.
"It has a good atmosphere, and it’s open 24/7, and it has a good variety of food," Gill said as he sat perched on a counter stool reading "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking. Gill usually orders sausage and eggs for breakfast, but he likes their prime rib and their tomato-based soups as well.
Dona Thompson of McLean took Jacob Lehman of southern Virginia to Amphora on Sunday afternoon because she likes the atmosphere.
"They don't push you out quickly. They let you take your time to eat," Thompson said.
As Amphora grows older, the children of the founding owners said they'll add new items to the menu to reflect the changing tastes. They put in quesadillas and buffalo wings a couple of years ago, at first to the protest of their parents, who wondered what those items were. Now their parents order the quesadillas at least once a week.
"As Vienna changes and grows, our hope is that Amphora does the same thing," Maria Cholakis said.