Bob Karas, with nephew Aleko Karas and cousin Nick Smith, inside the new Alexander’s.

Alexander’s Cafe: Conquering the Dining Scene

With a newly remodeled space and a fresh new menu, this longtime Elgin hangout is impressing new diners and longtime fans.

Bob Karas, with nephew Aleko Karas and cousin Nick Smith, inside the new Alexander’s.
Bob Karas, with nephew Aleko Karas and cousin Nick Smith, inside the new Alexander’s.

If it’s been a few years since you dined at Alexander’s Cafe, 1725 N. State St., in Elgin, you might not recognize it today.

That’s because the popular dining spot has undergone a major transformation, which includes fresh decor, a modernized menu and a new energy.

“It had become a little stale,” says Bob Karas, co-owner with his uncle, George Karas. “It definitely had a dated look. To be competitive in this business, you have to sometimes make changes.”

Last fall, construction crews spent nearly four months renovating the upscale breakfast, lunch and dinner establishment located along Illinois Route 31 near Interstate 90. Changes to the spacious 7,000 square-foot restaurant, which seats 200, include a sleek new interior, accented with stone and wood. The Karases added a gourmet coffee bar serving Chicago-based Intellegentsia Coffee, a modern bar stocked with liquors, a gas fireplace, high-definition TVs and digital signage.

The results have been well-received by longtime customers and new visitors alike. “Before, as with most Greek restaurants, it was a glass and brass jungle,” says Bob. “But now, customers rave about the feel and the look of our restaurant. They can’t believe it’s the same place. We’ve seen an increase in new and repeat customers.”

Alexander’s was opened in 1987 by Bob’s father, Paul, and his brother, George. The brothers, who moved to the United States from Greece in the 1960s, named their new restaurant after the famous king of the Greek kingdom of Macedon. Paul is now retired, having passed the reins over to his son and brother.

Bob was practically born into the business. As a teenager, he did everything from washing dishes to busing tables, before working his way to management. “It’s a fun business, but it’s a lot of work,” he says. “You definitely have to love it to be in it. Even after 30 years, I’m always trying to improve, whether it’s developing the look, food or just our efficiency.”

In addition to Alexander’s, the Karas family owns the Village Squire, with locations in West Dundee, Crystal Lake, South Elgin and McHenry, as well as Rookies All-American Pub & Grill, with locations in St. Charles, Elgin, Hoffman Estates and Huntley.

“We’re a tight-knit family,” Bob says. “My sisters, their spouses and our cousins all work at our other restaurants. It takes special people to work in this business. It’s in our family’s blood.”

The key to any successful operation, Bob says, is maintaining a solid core of employees. “We take good care of our employees who, in turn, take excellent care of our customers.” Those guests include not only locals, but travelers staying at a nearby hotel, or making their way along I-90.

During Alexander’s transition period, the family hired Chef Grant Werner, who brings plenty of corporate experience to the table. Together they worked to introduce a brand-new menu that features modern, light cafe-style fare.

“We streamlined our menu to make it slightly more upscale, but we still have traditional favorites like pot roast and meatloaf,” says Bob. “We used to have 10 different chicken sandwiches, for example, and now we have one chicken sandwich. Fried appetizers have been replaced with more trendy items such as baked goat cheese, calamari and spinach dip. We have many items you wouldn’t see in a typical Greek restaurant, like fish tacos or chili-rubbed salmon.”

One thing that remains the same is the restaurant’s name. “We thought about changing it again, but Alexander’s has been with our family for 27 years,” Bob says. “It has special meaning to us.”

Alexander’s Cafe is open Mon.-Sat. 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sun. 7 a.m.– 9 p.m.