After 43 years, owner of Tony’s Steamers in Winfield is hanging up the apron


After 43 years of serving up Hall of Fame-worthy hot dogs, Tony Vassil of Tony’s Steamers in Winfield is retiring.

“It’s time to hang up the apron and see what’s on the other side of these four walls,” Vassil said. “It’s been a real wild ride, especially (the business) surviving COVID, and to leave on top is what I always wanted to do.”

 
Tony Vassil opened Tony’s Steamers in 1981. He’s retiring after 43 years in the business.
Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.com

Vassil opened the first Tony’s Steamers restaurant in 1981 in Carol Stream when he was 27. He opened the Winfield location in 1987, selling the Carol Stream restaurant a couple of years later.

Now 70, he said he’s ready to see the world. He keeps a framed collection of foreign currency on his counter that his regular customers have brought him over the years from their vacations.

 
Tony’s Steamers owner Tony Vassil has a collection on the counter of his Winfield restaurant of money his customers have brought him from their travels. He said he’s retiring so he can finally do some traveling of his own.
Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.com

“Sometimes I look at it and go, ‘What the hell am I doing.’ It’s time to do some traveling,” he said with a laugh. “I cheated my wife out of a lot of years by being here.”

But he’s not complaining, saying the business put his four kids through college and earned him a lot of friends in the community.

“I always liked it. I like the people, the camaraderie. I like feeding them and making them happy,” he said. “People who used to work for me when they were 15, 16 now bring in their kids. It makes me proud they come back to the old neighborhood place.”

 
Tony Vassil talks with a longtime customer from behind the counter at Tony’s Steamers. He recently sold the Winfield business with plans to retire.
Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.com

Once Vassil made it known he planned to sell the business, there was no shortage of interest.

“The only problem was finding the right buyer,” Vassil said. “I wasn’t just going to let it go to anybody. There’s a hell of a reputation here, 43 years.”

He thinks he found the right people in George and Sophia Kouvelis, longtime restaurant owners who are from the area.

George Kouvelis said there’s a lot of pressure, but he’s excited to take over the operation.

“It’s such a legacy,” he said. “He serves great hot dogs. They give great service. It has it all.”

 
Years of photos and plaques from sports sponsorships line the wall at Tony’s Steamers in Winfield.
Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.com

The two share similar backgrounds, having been raised in the restaurant business by their parents and sharing southside roots. Kouvelis more or less sounds like a little younger, louder version of Vassil.

“Once we met, he and I just kind of hit it off,” Vassil said. “That’s what I sounded like when I was his age.”

Vassil said the secret to his success is product consistency, good service and reasonable prices. The hot dogs have always been steamed, and his burgers square since he opened.

“I haven’t changed the product since I started in this business,” said the 2006 inductee into the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame. “When you get a taste for (Tony’s), you’re going to come here and get exactly what you expected.”

Though the sale is complete, Vassil has been coming in daily to work with the couple and get them up to speed. He said he couldn’t say when his last day would be, just when he knows they’re comfortable with how things should be done.

“I don’t want to say there will ever be a last day,” said Vassil, who plans to stop in regularly for lunch. “I’ve got to keep them honest and make sure things stay the same.”

 
Customers line up not long after Tony’s Steamers opens on Wednesday.
Rick West/rwest@dailyherald.com



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