When Milton Family Restaurant opened 30 years ago, the business didn’t need a mission statement. The mission was in the name: Milton, family and restaurant.
Husband and wife Abib and Buki Jonuzi opened the restaurant with the help of Buki’s father and brother.
“We open up to try the business,” said Abib, who 30 years ago knew very little English. Abib and Buki, who have been married for 34 years, are Albanian immigrants from Macedonia.
The Jonuzis said they didn’t plan on staying in Milton for 30 years.
“We never thought it would be that long,” he said. “We try it and we kept going.”
They wanted to see how things went with the business, he said.
“And we have a lot of success,” Abib said. “Good community. Good family. Good business. That’s why we keep going.”
When Milton Family Restaurant first opened, the restaurant could seat 40 people. Three years later, they remodeled and could seat 60. They didn’t stop there. They extended the restaurant that today can seat 115.
In 30 years’ time, 2003 stands out. It was that year the Jonuzis bought the building at 541 Vernal Ave. and Abib became a U.S. citizen.
Purchasing 541 Vernal Ave, also known as the “Button Block,” in the Merchant Row Historic District, they themselves were adding to Milton’s history.
In Milton, “MFR,” as the younger generation calls it, outlasted Hardee’s, McDonald’s and Burger King.
It wasn’t easy, Abib said.
“It was very, very hard, but we keep going and keep going and today it’s still going,” he said.
Unlike the fast food restaurants, Abib said MFR didn’t depend on Highway 26 traffic and wasn’t impacted by the highway bypass.
In the heart of Milton’s west side, Milton Family Restaurant appeals to the hearts and stomachs of community members. Customers return for biscuits and gravy, pancakes, french toast, coffee, omelets, turkey sandwiches, skillets, wraps, stir fry, fish fry, potato soup and liver and onions.
On Facebook, the Milton Courier asked which menu item people liked most. In their responses, people reminded that MFR is more than food:
“They treat you like family.”
“It is truly a ‘family’ restaurant.”
“My favorite item isn’t on the menu. It’s the people there. Everyone is always welcoming and treats you like a friend.”
“Feels like home.”
The restaurant is a meeting place for businessmen and women, large family gatherings, two friends having coffee and solitary dining.
Photos of some of Milton’s famous are displayed on a wall near the entryway. World Cup alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn is there. She ate breakfast at MFR with her family including her grandfather Don Kildow, who taught her to ski. Abib remembers she likes to order a veggie omelet with cheddar cheese and sliced raisin toast.
The younger generation of Milton residents may not know that the older generation refers to the restaurant as “Abib’s.” They might know that Abib likes the Packers.
Their son, Tim, is a Bears fan. Buki doesn’t get in the middle of that, but she’ll encourage a friendly rivalry among customers who are Bears fans and Abib anytime she gets the chance.
“It’s how the business works,” she said, with a smile.
The Jonuzis have a dozen employees. Their three adult children Afije, Tim and Afrime and son in law Agim help, as needed.
Buki says they don’t look at going to work as a job. They look at it as feeding family.
“We are seriously so proud, so happy, so thankful for this community that’s kept us going all these years,” Buki said. “We wouldn’t be here without it.”
The Jonuzi family lives above the restaurant with extended family close by.
Family members have been honored with menu items including:
• Abib’s Omelet (ham, sausage, bacon and cheese).
• Buki’s Special (two golden pancakes with a slice of ham in the center and two eggs on top).
• Tim’s 6 ounce Steak sandwich.
After Buki thought one of the girls should have their favorite sandwich named after her, the girls said they were fine not having their name associated with a chicken breast or any other sandwich.
To celebrate 30 years, the Jonuzis offered prices from 1991 on Jan. 4 and they plan to do that every Jan. 4 going forward.
Buki keep menus from when the restaurant first opened. Coffee was 60 cents. Hamburgers were $2.05 and came with chips.
The tradition of free desserts continues 4-8 p.m. Tuesday and free pudding 4-8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.
When Abib retires one day, he hopes his adult children will take over the business and he will help them.
“It’s our dream, but you never know,” said Buki.
All three have graduated or are going to college. One is an attorney, one is in business management and the youngest is studying forensic science.
“We’re here to make a living,” Buki said, “but there’s no way you can become rich in these types of smaller businesses. But our richness for us is serving the community, food on our table, roof over our head. And, we appreciate the community that made it possible.”