Luigi’s is one of our finest dining establishments, but it is much more than a restaurant. It is a Fayetteville institution.
A favorite place for families and couples to share a meal, Luigi’s is also frequented for all kinds of celebrations and special moments. The varied menu, comfortable atmosphere and friendly service have made it a popular choice for many years.
Luigi’s opened at 528 North McPherson Church Road in 1982, but its history and tradition go back much farther. The late Pete Parrous converted his father’s Hay Street restaurant from a seafood eatery to a spaghetti house in the early 1950s and named it Luigi’s.
Parrous eventually left downtown, opening the Lighthouse restaurant on Bragg Boulevard before moving across the road to establish Deno’s near Eutaw Shopping Center. Later he opened three Pizza Palaces, and in 1982, he decided to change No. 3 from a drive-through to a dine-in location. Parrous felt people would remember the Luigi’s name, so he used that for the McPherson Church Road restaurant.
Over the past 26 years, there have been major renovations, an expansion and a horrific tragedy. The latter took place at Luigi’s the night of Aug. 6, 1993, when a gunman went on a shooting rampage that left four people dead and eight injured. Among those killed were the 73-year-old Parrous and his wife, Ethel, who was 63.
The restaurant closed until Sept. 14 of that year. There were those who said memories of the massacre would cripple the business and keep people away. However, it turned out that the exact opposite happened.
“My dad had been serving food to people in Fayetteville for over 50 years,” says Linda Higgins, one of Parrous’ daughters, who now operates Luigi’s with her brother Nick and brother-in-law Tony Kotsopoulos. “This was our home. Dad worked too hard for us to just give it up.
“But we weren’t sure how the community would react. Tony pushed to re-open as soon as possible, and it was the right thing to do. The night we opened back up, there was a long line of people outside. It was overwhelming.”
Kotsopoulos recalls that Tuesday evening very clearly. “There was a huge crowd. We had received so many calls, cards and flowers, with people offering their support every day. So I knew we would be busy, but the turnout was beyond my expectations. It was that way for a week. It was heartwarming.”
Kotsopoulos, who had been working closely with Pete Parrous in the restaurant, assumed more responsibilities. Higgins, who was working as a travel agent, and Nick Parrous, who had just graduated from N.C. State with a degree in architecture, partnered with Kotsopoulos to run Luigi’s.
“I don’t know that I really planned on making the restaurant a career,” Higgins says, “but I always kind of thought I would end up being involved in some way. It has been rewarding. My parents had a lot of friends. I already knew that, and I have met so many of them and have made many new friends myself working here. And it means a lot to carry on what my dad started.”
The transition was more difficult for Nick.
“I never intended to be in the (restaurant) business,” he says. “I had seen the long hours my dad worked. My passion was architecture.”
Parrous worked five years as an architect in Fayetteville while helping out nights at Luigi’s. In 1997, he made the restaurant his full-time career.
“I knew the business,” he says. “I had grown up in it. Working here was something I had to do. I never would have been at peace with myself if I had just walked away from it. This place is my father’s legacy.”
Now Parrous has a new passion. It is the wine cellar he has created at Luigi’s. With a list that includes 260 wines and his expertise, this addition has been a big hit.
“It has added a touch of class,” Parrous says. “The wine cellar has made us a complete fine dining establishment. Our diners really enjoy it, and it’s fun for me. We are constantly striving for gratification, and it is a great feeling to see someone enjoy something as much as I do.”
Luigi’s specializes in Italian dishes and also offers steaks and seafood. The menu seldom changes, with management paying attention to what customers like.
“We give our diners good choices with dishes we think they will like,” Kotsopoulos explains. “We look at the numbers of each dish that is sold, and if something is not being ordered very often, we will empty that slot on the menu.”
Luigi’s customers feel at home because they see the same faces: Higgins, Parrous, Kotsopoulos, managers Mike Lounsberry and Scott Bullock, and Lee Collison, whose time with the restaurant dates back to her days as a waitress at Deno’s.
“You go some places, and nobody knows you,” Kotsopoulos says. “Here, you see people you know. We consider our diners as part of the family. We have a lot of people who have been coming here for many years. They know what they are getting.”
“My dad used to say it doesn’t matter how many people come in that door,” Higgins says. “It’s how many times they come back. We are fortunate that so many people do just that. They are guests in our house.”
“We have been a piece of so many people’s lives,” Parrous says. “I think all of us had a sense of obligation to continue what our parents started. I think we have had an impact on the community.”
What is the secret to Luigi’s tremendous success?
“Good food and good service,” Higgins says, “plus the desire to always get better. We want our customers to have the best dining experience possible.”