Tradition on the menu
Salona celebrates five years, waitress celebrates 12
By Lisa Brown email@example.com
For years, many people in Manchester’s South Side who love a cold beer, great conversation, good food and a warm welcome have gone to Salona Restaurant, 128 Maple St. The atmosphere is non fussy and totally friendly, especially when Merle is there.
“She makes Salona because she’s part of the fixtures,” said owner Stacey Zisis, who has lived in Manchester for more than 30 years and bought Salona five years ago. With the restaurant came its most valuable asset, Merle Woitkowski, a waitress who served in restaurants across Manchester for more than 50 years, the last 12 of them at Salona. Before Salona, Woitkowski worked for 14 years at Mr. Steak on Elm Street before that went out of business.
“I got my first job when I was 16 years old, at the Puritan on Elm Street, I took time off to have my five children and went away for a while and came back,” said Merle Woitkowski, Salona’s longest-serving waitress.
“Right now her hair is normal, she is known for her bright red, red clown-like red hair ... I would say 50 percent of Manchester knows her because she’s been in the business for so long,” Zisis said.
Zisis and her family run Salona Restaurant and Lounge, a Manchester landmark of sorts. Her brother Angelo helps out when he can (he used to own Lake Avenue Pizza) and her sister Emily pitches in as well as other family members including niece Stacey Burley. Because the Zisis family is Greek (they all moved to Manchester from Greece more than 30 years ago), you’ll find a few Greek dishes on the regular menu, including barbecue lamb skewers, international chicken, topped with feta and spinach, and gyros. Each night of the week there’s a different special, maybe a classic Greek dish such as pastichio, spanakopita or dolmathes, or savory homemade American chop suey. On Friday afternoons, the fish special for lunch is a crowd-pleaser.
“We give you a choice of haddock, scallops, shrimp or clams for $8.95, and it’s all fresh seafood,” Zisis said. “It is good stuff.”
Zisis plans to celebrate her fifth anniversary owning the restaurant during the last week in October with a few customer appreciation specials including free appetizers with dinner. It’s the customers who have made the hard work of running a restaurant rewarding, said Zisis.
“We have a lot of older clientele that come in, especially to the dining room, and I love it, I love sitting and talking to people,” Zisis said. “I think I know about 80 percent of my clientele, like I know them, I go and meet them and talk to them.”
The menu at Salona features more than 20 different kinds of pizza and calzones, grinders, subs, club sandwiches and full dinners including steak, chicken, seafood, surf and turf and seven varieties of pasta. All dinners, which average between $9.95 and $17.95, are served with a choice of potato or rice and soup or salad. Soups are all homemade, including the seafood chowder, which is served on Fridays. For people who have difficulty making decisions, there’s always Merle, who will help out.
“People often say to me, ‘What is your favorite?’ and I say, ‘The steak tips,’ they are to die for,” Woitkowski said. “The steak tip dinner, steak tip sub and steak tip salad, they are all wonderful, our salads are fresh and very large.”
“She is like your grandmother, she’s just very friendly, very loving and is there to cater to you, because that is what you are paying for,” Zisis said. “You know a lot of people go to work and they just do their job because it’s their job. She [Woitkowski] appreciates the people that come in and they are paying for her service and she provides that service very very well.”