Editor’s Note: This essay was written by Michael Schwartz for a class at Ithaca College in the spring of 2013. It has been edited and reprinted here with the permission of Schwartz and Dean Zervos, owner of Simeon’s.

Ithaca, N.Y. — Located on the corner of South Aurora, with a stenciled ceiling and eclectic design, Simeon’s serves its customers in a building more than 140 years old.

Before the current stage of Simeon’s restaurant, which opened in 2007, the space debuted as a soda and candy shop from 1923 until 1930. The shop was then replaced by a men’s clothing store, which was open for more than 40 years. In 1975, the building was renovated back to its original form of the 1920’s style candy shop. The shop was named Simeon’s after the first Surveyor General of New York State and the founder of Ithaca, Simeon Dewitt.

The building that houses Simeon’s has stood since 1872. (Courtesy of the Dewitt Historical Society)

The structure went under more change in 1986, this time turning into a restaurant. After being bought and sold by many different owners, two friends, Richard Avery and Dean Zervos, bought the restaurant and have been running it ever since.

The two first met when they attended culinary school together and continued their relationship when they attended RIT. During the commute home, they would frequently stop in the Commons, not knowing they would one day own a restaurant there.

When they found Simeon’s, Avery told Zervos, “It was the best location you could possibly have, but it had the worst kitchen you could possibly have.”

But after the much needed remodeling, both chefs felt they had a strong culinary background and knew they could make it work.

Avery, of Endicott, worked in the 1990s as a manager of a high-end jazz club in New York City called the Five Spot Jazz Club. Zervos was executive chef for a billionaire on a private resort in Florida for nine years, which he said was a lot of fun. Once they found out that Simeon’s the candy shop was on the market, Zervos moved his family to Ithaca to pursue his passion.

Things fell into place. Zervos and Avery not only restored their kitchen, but they expanded it. Just 14 months after opening, the pizzeria next door to Simeon’s closed, and one wish for the friends came true: a full sized kitchen. Both owners changed the menu to their own recipes, giving Simeon’s a new taste.

 “The previous owner had a bar that served food, we have converted into a restaurant that has a bar,” said Zervos. “That’s the difference we made.”

Zervos said they created a friendly and warm environment with their staff. Justin Straight, who has worked at the bistro for two years, said he really enjoys working at the restaurant.

When the Commons redesign was announced, Zervos didn’t join other local business owners in worrying.

“It’s the greatest thing that could possibly happen,” he said.

He also explained that when the construction is done, a new hotel and the overall retouches will attract customers back to what Zervos calls, a “destination location.”

While the future is unknown for Simeon’s, both owners are optimistic for the outcome of the Commons and the business it will attract. So, while the ice-cold beer continues to flow from the tap, and the mozzarella on the chicken parm bubbles, business continues to thrive at Simeon’s American Bistro Cuisine.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.