Meat, Three and Me


v51a3925-editLunchtime at Ted’s, which sports a new exterior look complete with a mural, is a voyage to an essential part of the heart of the city.

Written by Joe O’Donnell *  Photography by Beau Gustafson

There is a system. You get a tray. You get your food. You find a table. You pay when you’re done.

A simple routine, but if you eat at Ted’s enough you will find a person, sometimes two, who aren’t familiar. They are new. Do they pay at the end of the line? Where do they get the beverages? Soon all is revealed by a friendly helpful waitress, and perhaps another regular is born.

Ted’s is a place for regulars.

For owners Tasos and Beba Touloupis, it was a place for family, their own and the extended family they made of Ted’s customers. It was the year 2000 and Tasos, who was born in Greece and emigrated to America to study aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama, was working in management at the Hoover Country Club. Ted Sarris came to call on him there to arrange the details for his 70th birthday celebration.

It was a fateful meeting.

Ted had owned Ted’s Restaurant, a meat and three on the edge of downtown near UAB, since 1973. He was ready to retire. And somehow he saw in Tasos a kindred spirit, a person to sell a restaurant to, a man to carry on a legacy.

v51a3766The restaurant and hospitality business is hard on a family. But for Tasos and Beba, Ted’s offered a manageable and ultimately heart-warming business that offered them a chance at success. Ted Sarris and his wife, Litsa, had run the restaurant for decades; with their help Beba and Tasos could do it too. And 17 years later that is what has happened.

“That conversation with Mr. Ted took place on a Friday. Monday my wife and I had lunch at Ted’s and it was life changing,” Tasos says.

“I had no idea what a meat and three was. It was blind faith. Mr. Ted knew what he was doing and he promised to train us and he did,” Beba says.

Tasos remembers the conversations. “He stayed with us three months. It was the most fun and challenging time. He ran that place like an assembly line in a Mercedes-Benz plant. Use the right spoon. Don’t change the size of the pans. He’d say ‘You do it my way, you will make money. You do it your way, and you won’t make money’,” remembers Tasos.

“To this day we are grateful. And Mr. Ted is grateful. We kept his legacy alive.” says Tasos.

“What makes Mr. Ted happy is the fact that we did not just maintain the status quo. We enhanced it, put money into it. We built on what he had. He realizes that we are not just going to run the building down. We are here for the duration. That makes him happy,” says Beba. “It has been a good journey. We raised three kids (two boys, John and Alexios, and a daughter, Mary Catherine) in this restaurant.”v51a3958

“Ted’s has allowed us to have a family life. It has given us so much, so much,” Tasos says. “The opportunity to have the time with the family was priceless. We were blessed.”

Then there is the Touloupis extended family at the restaurant. The diversity is startling.

Lawyers and sales people. Bankers and construction workers. Cops and docs. “The customers have become good friends. The connections we have made over 17 years is like a community network,” Tasos says. A typical lunchtime may bring 250 diners to the restaurant.

“I feel like you come into Ted’s, you are going to experience what Birmingham is all about. We are honored to be a part of that,” Beba says.

So honored in fact, Tasos and Beba decided it was time to spruce up the exterior of the restaurant to align with the extraordinary development of Parkside, new ball park, new apartments, new look at Ted’s.

v51a3965“It is exciting to be a part of what is happening downtown,” Beba says. “That is why we revitalized a little bit. We wanted to be a proud symbol of a reviving Birmingham. We are coming back and we are proud to be a part of that.”

The south side of the building sports a simple, bold color scheme of white and green (an echo of UAB) with the message, Welcome to Ted’s in the Heart of Birmingham since 1973.

“I wanted something that reflects us and who we are and what we are doing in the city. What is our purpose. That’s why the artist came up with in the heart of Birmingham,” Tasos says,

The north side of the building has been transformed into a mural that captures the landmarks of the city in the same white and green. Vulcan, the Alabama Theatre, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral, McWane Science Center, Sloss Furnaces, Regions Field, Railroad Park, the Lyric Theatre and the Magic City sign at the Rotary Trail all made the mural. A home run explodes into the sky from Regions Field.

It is all the work of artist Bonard Hughins, assisted by his father, Wayne.

So at first blush there is a lot of visual change at Ted’s. But the new sign still has the original clock which stopped working some years ago and is prohibitively costly to repair. It remains stuck at 3:22. Some things at Ted’s just don’t change.

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