Gus Alpogianis knew you couldn’t beat a good burger or Greek omelet.
He was connected to a dozen or so popular restaurants — working for them, owning them or dreaming up the concepts for them.
Two of his best-known were the Palace Grill on Madison Street, where he was part-owner from 1955 to 1979, and Kappy’s American Grill in Morton Grove, where the “Big Gus” — a ½-pound, Swiss cheese patty topped with bacon and a fried egg — stands as testimony to his appreciation for hamburgers.
Constantine “Gus” Alpogianis, who survived for 18 years after being diagnosed with kidney cancer, died Wednesday at Swedish Covenant Hospital. He was 85.
He was a combat veteran of the Korean war, serving with the 2nd Infantry, which saw heavy action and casualties.
“They were there when the Chinese were overrunning the border,” said his son George Alpogianis.
In the riots that followed the 1968 assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Alpogianis, his brother Michael and their father George barricaded themselves inside their Palace Grill at 1408 W. Madison, hosing it down when Molotov cocktails were tossed onto the roof.
“My dad had an M1 carbine in his hand,” his son said, for protection. “The police brought it to him.”
Though he appeared rock-like until his 80s, he was a softie when it came to Sammy, his four-pound poodle. For him, “My dad would order rib-eye steaks at the restaurant,” his son said.
The son of immigrants from Astros, Greece, Mr. Alpogianis grew up near Clark and Newport and attended LeMoyne grade school. At 12, he was delivering liquor for a grocer and selling copies of “Who’s Who in Baseball” outside Wrigley Field.
After graduating from Amundsen High School, he enlisted in the Army.
In 1953, he went to work at the Palace Grill, where his father was a cook.
“He got my dad and his brother jobs as a dishwasher and prep cook,” George Alpogianis said — and two years later, the three of them bought the diner.
In the days before proximity to winning Blackhawks teams and Harpo Studios, the Palace Grill was best experienced by exercising situational awareness.
“It was Skid Row,” George Alpogianis said. “They had three guns behind the counter.”
Still, politicians dropped in occasionally to woo the working class. Mayor Richard J. Daley dined there. So did Blackhawks stars Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Phil Esposito.
In 1979, the Alpogianises sold the Palace Grill to cousins George and Peter Lemperis.
Mr. Alpogianis and his sons George and Manolis operated TAG (The Alpogianis Group), which opened America’s Dog eateries at Navy Pier, State and Randolph, the Thompson Center and O’Hare Airport, as well as another spot at the airport, Green Market.
“He was a restaurant icon with loads of personality,” said Bob Schwartz, the author of “Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog,” who’s a senior vice president of Vienna Beef, a supplier to the Alpogianises. “He knew so many customers by name.”
Every Sunday, Mr. Alpogianis and his sons met for dinner and talked over business. He had a firm rule, George Alpogianis said: “No matter what happens at the restaurant, we’re always family, and we would never leave the table mad at each other.”
Also: “Treat people at the front of the house, the customers and everyone that works at the restaurant as family.”
As a result, the son said, “More than half of my [Kappy’s] staff has been with me over 25 years.’’
Mr. Alpogianis married the former Evangeline Mastropulos 51 years ago. Her parents owned the Grecian Gardens, a famed nightclub at 404 S. Halsted that featured its own band, belly dancers and headliners from Greece.
In addition to his wife and sons, Mr. Alpogianis is survived by his daughter Maria Alpogianis, sister Evelyn Leberis and five grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday at Smith-Corcoran Funeral Home, 6150 N. Cicero. A funeral service is scheduled at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. George Greek Orthodox Church, 2701 N. Sheffield.
His family plans to tuck a Kappy’s calendar into the casket.