RACINE — A new chapter in the Corner House’s storied 72-year history has begun: For the first time ever, it is now being run by someone not named Kopulos.
On Thursday, brothers and co-owners George and John Kopulos handed the keys of their restaurant to Ben Nelson and his fianceé, Jodie Azarian, who are in the process of buying it.
The name of the widely known steakhouse at 1521 Washington Ave. in Uptown, most famous for its prime rib, will remain the Corner House.
Asked what, if anything, at the Corner House will change, Nelson replied, “We’re going to keep the tradition of the Corner House. It’s a staple in the community. … We just want to carry on the legacy of the Kopulos family.
“Everybody adds their own twist to what they want to do. But overall, it’s going to continue to be the Corner House.”
One thing they will do is slightly extend the hours of operation.
The Kopulos brothers’ father, Chicago-born Albert Kopulos, took over a tavern and started his restaurant at the corner of Washington and Owen avenues on a historic day: Aug. 14, 1945, V-J Day, the day imperial Japan surrendered in World War II. At one point, Kopulos expanded his restaurant into the adjacent building to achieve its present 6,000-plus square feet, a space that can seat about 220 people.
George and John worked at the restaurant growing up and took over the Corner House in 2001 when Albert died.
Over the years, Nelson, who is friends with both George, now 71, and John, 74, talked several times to them about the possibility of taking over their supper club.
“Ben, many years ago, wanted to buy this restaurant,” George said. “And he didn’t; it didn’t happen. Then, another time he wanted to buy it, and it just wasn’t right at that time.”
But last October the Kopulos brothers agreed it was indeed time to step aside. George called Nelson, “and it escalated from there,” George said.
“It was just something I’ve always wanted,” Nelson said. “We’ve talked about this for 22 years, back and forth.” But each time, one party or the other wasn’t ready — until this time.
Decades of experience
Nelson has a long history of owning and running local bars and restaurants: Westside Lounge, 5200 Washington Ave., from about 1988-94; Beachside Bar, 1300 Michigan Blvd., from about 1995-2002; the Ham & Egger, 1401 N. Main St., 2000-02; and Benny’s on Sixth, 219 Sixth St., for a year or two in the early 2000s.
In early 2017 he started Car Corner, 2100 Rapids Drive, which he and Azarian plan to continue along with running the Corner House.
Azarian also has many years of experience as a bartender, server, manager and hostess, including working for Nelson at Beachside — as well as bartending and serving at the Corner House. Most recently, she was at Rojo’s Pub, 1313 Yout St., for 15 years.
Azarian — whose favorite Corner House dishes are Oysters Rockefeller and prime rib — will manage the “front of the house,” acting as hostess and overseeing the bar and wait staff operations.
Nelson, who is partial to the Veal Oscar “and of course the prime rib,” said he’ll oversee the “back of the house,” the kitchen and food operations.
Just before stepping out of the business forever, John said, “George wanted to retire several years ago, and we probably could have. But for me, the timing was very right for me.”
George said that in his retirement, he and his wife “have got a lot of travel to catch up on.”
John added, “It’s time to pass the torch.”
For more information, call the Corner House at 262-637-1295.
“We’re going to keep the tradition of the Corner House. It’s a staple in the community.” Ben Nelson, new co-owner of the Corner House