Hoagie Haven has new counters, a new floor and a new "heart-stop special" — a bacon cheese steak with eggs for $6.55 — but the faces behind the counter are familiar. George and Emily Roussos, who owned Hoagie Haven from 1976 to 1988, are back running Princeton's favorite sandwich shop after a 15-year hiatus.
"We've never really left," said Emily, a Massachusetts native of Greek heritage with curly black hair. "I was looking forward to getting back. I missed the people."
George Angelotopoulous, the "George" that many students identify so closely with their late-night hoagie runs, chose to take a break from the restaurant business when the 15-year contract he signed with the Roussoses to run Hoagie Haven expired in July 2003. Angelotopoulous is currently on vacation in Greece, Emily said.
After the Roussoses took back the reins this summer, they closed the Haven for renovations from mid-July to mid-August, Emily said. The shop got new refrigeration, new machines and equipment, a new floor and a new counter. However, the sign and the menu, imperatively, stayed exactly the same.
"The sign had to be the same. That's over thirty years old," Emily said, pointing. "It's on wood. They don't make it like that anymore."
The hand-crank cash register is also original from the store's opening. "I took it when we left, and then I brought it back with me," Emily said. Most importantly, Hoagie Haven's cooking traditions are upheld — everything except the coleslaw is still homemade, and the hoagies taste as delicious as ever.
The Roussos family became a Princeton institution in 1976, when they bought Hoagie Haven from some relatives and moved into the apartment right above the shop. During the 1980s, they raised their three children there.
And few students realize that Roussos — the tall man now behind the counter with a big smile and short grey hair — is also one of their classmates. He received an honorary degree from Princeton's senior class in 1988 for his work as a "master hoagie-maker."
After temporarily signing the Haven over to Angelotopoulous in 1988, the Roussoses founded the self-titled George's Roasters and Ribs in 1993. Just a few yards away from Hoagie Haven, George's prides itself on its rotisserie chicken, buffalo wings, and takeout dinner entrees that suit a student's budget. The Roussouses sold George's to Niko Maltabes, their cousin and employee of several years, in 1998. Maltabes now lives in the apartment above Hoagie Haven that the Roussoses used to inhabit.
Maltabes said he is glad to have his cousins back next door. Not only is it nice to have the family close, he said, but it's easy for the relations to borrow produce from each other if one runs out of something.
"Once I even had one of their guys working here," Niko added.
Emily said she is not concerned that the Haven will compete with George's because the two takeout businesses' menus are so "totally different."
She said being a family-run business added, "more personality, and more warmth" to the deli.
"We treat the people like friends and family," she said. "You see the people every day, or every other day, and they say, 'hi Emily.'"
That, in fact, is how some of the restaurant's 'specials' come into being. Sanders' French fries, for example, were named after one frequent customer.
"There's this kid that comes in, and his name is Sanders, and he always gets them, so we called them Sanders' fries and put them on the menu," Emily said. "They're cheese fries with bacon."