As a young girl in the late 1960s, Niki Loupassi would wrap herself in a checkered tablecloth and sit in the booths of the Robin Inn while waiting for her parents, Carol and Manuel Loupassi, to close down their family restaurant for the night.
By age 11 she began bussing tables there and went full-time at the Fan eatery as a teenager. By 1996, she took over ownership from her parents and has spent many of her days there since.
Now, Loupassi is looking to sell the Robin Inn, after nearly 60 years under her family’s ownership. If she’s unable to find a buyer, Loupassi said she’ll wind down the restaurant and look for a new tenant to lease the approximately 2,600-square-foot space at 2601 Park Ave.
Either way, June 18 will be the last day Loupassi intends to operate the business.
“I’m just really ready to retire and I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” she said. “It got to a point where I wasn’t as happy. I wasn’t enjoying my job the way that I should.”
Robin Inn has served Greek and Italian fare at the corner of North Robinson Street and Park Avenue since the late 1950s. Manuel Loupassi, Niki’s late father, immigrated to the U.S. from Greece in 1957 and got his first job in America as a dishwasher at a Holiday Inn. Seven years after arriving in Richmond, he acquired the Robin Inn and proceeded to run it for the next 32 years with Carol.
In that time he also built a sizable portfolio of real estate in the Museum District, one that included the former Gusti Restaurant Equipment & Supply building on Broad Street. In 2019, Loupassi began selling off his real estate holdings.
The Robin Inn also built up a collection of regulars. Niki said she now serves the children and grandchildren of folks that used to come into the restaurant back when Manuel ran it.
“I have customers come in and eat lunch and dinner (at the Robin Inn) on the same day. I have regulars who come in three-to-four times per week,” she said. “I do cater usually to an older crowd, but a lot of younger folks love it too.”
Her 27 years at the helm of the Robin Inn didn’t pass without some tough memories, the pandemic and a recent rude customer among them. “People can be snippy sometimes,” Niki said. “If they’ve never worked in a restaurant, they don’t know the sacrifices people make working there.”
However, Niki said she holds most dearly the days she’d work at the restaurant with her father before he passed away last August at 84.
“Some of my happiest times were working there with my parents. It was so much fun working with them, so nice having the family work there,” she said. “It made it so much more effortless.”
Pollard & Bagby’s Tony Rolando is helping Loupassi in the search for a new operator. She said she’s hopeful she’ll be able to find another family to run the spot.
“What made my restaurant a family restaurant were my customers. If someone who has a family to run it could take it over, that’d be fantastic,” Loupassi said. “My type of restaurant, a true mom-and-pop type, is pretty much obsolete and will be greatly missed by the country.”
She said there’s already been some interest from prospective buyers, but that if no deal materializes by the fall they’ll begin marketing the space for lease. Loupassi will retain ownership of the building, which city records show Manuel bought in 1966 for $45,000.
Though Loupassi said she’d be willing to consult with a new owner on tweaking the recipes for the Robin Inn’s meat sauce, house dressing and lasagna – dishes she said are among the most popular – she said she’s focused on retiring and spending time with her family.
“Basically, I need to get the stress level down,” Loupassi said “But I feel proud of what I’ve done.”
- • BizSense reporter Jack Jacobs contributed to this report.