'Kiss My Grits:' Mel's Diner Still Serving Up Memories Of Old Phoenix

Published: Thursday, May 19, 2016 - 11:59am
Updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 - 6:12pm
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(Photo by Marisa Latzman - KJZZ)
Mel's Diner along Grand Avenue in Phoenix still has the signature coffee cup out front.

A piece of Valley history forever immortalized on television, is still very much alive along Grand Avenue in Phoenix.

For many TV fans,a trip to Mel's Diner is a trip down memory lane to the world famous old-fashioned truck stop which has become synonymous with Arizona.

While longtime Phoenicians know the place well, visitors come from thousands of miles away to get a glimpse of the old diner and sit at the well-worn linoleum counters.

The exterior of eatery was featured in the 1974 movie “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and the subsequent TV show “Alice” of the 70’s and 80’s.

You can find Christina Stivaktakis manning the counter. “A lot of people come in here and tell me to ‘kiss my grits!’ or, ‘are you Flo, or are you Alice?’” She’s referring to the TV show’s characters played by actresses Polly Holliday and Linda Lavin.

Lavin, who played Alice, lands in Phoenix after running out of money and befriends the acerbic Flo. Each of them work for the crusty fry cook Mel Sharples, played by late actor Vic Tayback.

“I’ve had people from Germany come in here and know the show very well, they dubbed it in their language,” Stivaktakis says proudly. “That’s kind of neat when we get foreigners that come over here that know the show and know the restaurant. Not because they were just stopping by, but because they were looking for this place.”

Her brother-in-law Mano Stivaktakis, a Greek immigrant, bought the diner 11 years ago not knowing a thing about its past.

“I pick up the phone one day and a lady was on the line and said ‘Can I speak to Mel?’ And I was like, you have the wrong number-- and she was like ‘No, Mel has gotta be there.'”

After learning the history from his customers, Stivaktakis quickly renamed his new establishment. “It never was named Mel’s Diner, but because everybody (was) calling and asking for Mel, I said you know what, there you go, Mel’s Diner.” 

Longtime customer George Scheffer says he’s been telling off people with the TV show’s signature “kiss my grits” line for years.

In many ways, from the tilted coffee cup sign out front along Grand Avenue to the Terracotta floors and bar stools inside, the place looks much like it did when it opened in the 1950’s.

“It’s an old roadside diner which is non-existent pretty much,” nowadays Scheffer says. “There’s a few around the country, but this is ours and it’s nostalgic and quaint.”

Fellow patron Tom Hinsdale says Mel’s represents a rare piece of Valley history that’s still standing. “You look at Phoenix and most of old Phoenix has been torn down or bypassed or cemented over, and it’s just a shame that so much of it has gone away,” he laments. “This is one of the few spots left in town that you can drive up and see and say gee, that’s seen there for a long time” 

Hinsdale says he’s glad the diner’s owner has preserved its history. “The people who own it now come from Greece and they’ve picked up on the historical part of it and have tried to resurrect that part of it.”

And owner Mano Stivaktakis says he doesn’t mind being called Mel or compared to ornery cook.

"I’m proud to own a piece of history, you know like it fits with us, with my family," he says. "We’re loud. Mel’s was loud. He was screaming. When I’m working back there, everybody can hear me."

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