Costa Ciungan paying tribute to restaurant legacy of two grandfathers
By Hank Minckiewicz
Ciungan’s Shrimp House. Say the name Downriver and many people swoon.
The Ecorse restaurant was a mainstay Downriver for decades before burning down in 1987. And, although the place has been gone for more than 30 years, people still remember it – especially the food.
If you are one of those people, there is good news – the old recipes have been revived and are back on a menu. The only catch is, you’ll have to go to Wayne to find them. It’s a small price to pay for those longing to relive the taste of the crispy shrimp, fish and chips and sauteed steak.
Costas Ciungan, grandson of former owner Virgil Ciungan is responsible for the comeback, opening his establishment – Costas Village Bar – in the building formerly occupied by his other grandfather’s business – Gus’ Village Inn and Grill.
It’s a merging of two family legacies. Virgil Ciungan owned and operated Ciungan’s Shrimp House for nearly six decades. Costas “Gus” Roussakies – Ciungan’s other grandfather – ran Gus’ Village bar from the 50s until the 2000s. The building dates back to 1926.
“Family pride is evident in our bar,” Ciungan says on the establishment’s website. “On one wall, we have framed photographs, some of them black and white, which showcase the generations of the Roussakies and Ciungan families. Not far away, are framed jerseys of mine that pay tribute to my rowing history and family’s boat-rowing days honor some notable wins in competition.”
Costas and his sister, Katie, were adopted and raised by their aunt, Carolyn, after their mother passed away suddenly when the twins were just 14 years old. Carolyn – one of Virgil’s daughters – worked at the old Shrimp House and is the keeper of the family recipes. Today, she is the day manager at the new restaurant.
Carolyn says the food served up today is the same as you’d remember from years ago at Ciungan’s Shrimp House.
“Obviously, we have a history of restaurateurs in our family,” Costas Ciungan said. “Opening this place is really the merging of two family traditions.”
Ciungan added that both Virgil Ciungan and Gus Roussakies were active members of their community and he hopes to be the same kind of owner.
Ciungan said he is happy with the way customers have responded in the eight months Costas Village Bar has been open.
“We’re getting a lot of customers, the number continues to grow,” he said. “People seem to like the food and environment and we want this to be a place people can come and enjoy themselves.”
Costas Village bar is located at 35234 W. Michigan Avenue, in downtown Wayne, just east of the historic State Wayne Theatre. The bar is in a cool, old area of downtown and the old photos, newspaper clippings, framed rowing a nice vibe. And the long bar, original to the building in 1926, give the place a comfortable neighbor feel.
With two sides to the bar – a quieter side – and a fun side with billiards and darts, Costas hopes to attract a wide array of different customers.
Costas, who went to high school on Grosse Ile and earned a bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State today lives in Wyandotte. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at Grand Valley and is an assistant rowing coach there.
And rowing is another family threat that runs through this story.
Virgil was a noted rower in his day and he remained active in the rowing community after his competitive days. Costas says it was Virgil who encouraged him to take up the sport and it has become a big part of his life.
Today, not only does Ciungan coach at Grand Valley, but he is also the head coach at the Wyandotte Rowing Club, where he is currently putting together a training plan for the competitive program.
And, like Virgil, he plans to stay actively involved with all aspects of rowing.
“I keep in contact with (Grosse Ile high school coach Scott Sitek),” Ciungan said. “I like to help out anyway I can and I am active in the Alumni Rowing Association, so we can help support the program.”
Ciungan said more than just being a sport, rowing helped shape the person he is today.
“Rowing – and all sports, really – teaches you how to juggle things in your life,” he said. “To succeed you need to have good time management skills.”
And between studying for a Master’s degree, running a successful business and coaching two rowing programs, Ciungan needs time management he can muster.
“Thanks to rowing, I know all about teamwork and balance and that helps me out,” he said.
Despite living during the week in Grand Rapids and running a business in Wayne, Ciungan remains a Downriver guy at heart and admits it. He said if things work out at his current location, he’s like to open more establishments.
“I would definitely like to expand, he said. “And I would definitely look at a Downiver as a second location.”
So if you need that Ciungan’s shrimp fix right now, head out to Wayne, but remember, that old-time taste treat may becoming to a location near you in the not so distant future.