For Bellevue's middle-class Lake Hills neighborhood, Stamos Cafe comes as close to television's "Cheers" as it gets. Forget the bar. Lake Hills is about...

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For Bellevue’s middle-class Lake Hills neighborhood, Stamos Cafe comes as close to television’s “Cheers” as it gets. Forget the bar. Lake Hills is about family. Stamos is baked ham with raisin sauce, or roast leg of lamb on Tuesday nights and turkey and stuffing on Friday.

Each morning for 25 years, since Aug. 17, 1980, Stella and Stamatios “Sam” Palios have served bacon, eggs and friendly chatter in the Lake Hills Shopping Center.

Beginning Tuesday, the couple will celebrate Stamos Cafe’s 25th anniversary by sharing free cheesecake with customers.

“It’s Sam’s special recipe,” Stella Palios said. “People love it.”

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But not everything is sweet about the celebration at the neighborhood hangout. The Palioses worry the comfortable booths may not have a future. Tentative plans for a drastic remodel of the shopping center have been discussed.

“We’ve been told there probably isn’t a place for a mom-and-pop shop like ours when the shopping center gets rebuilt,” she said.

The couple have 1 ½ years left on their lease. Ideally, they will stay open long beyond that.

Stella Palios treats her customers like a big, extended family. Over the countless cups of coffee she pours, she shares jokes and life experiences. Her daughter’s wedding pictures sit near the cash register. A stack of school photos from young customers is displayed nearby.

They have watched families as their children grow from highchairs to high school. They have danced at customers’ 50th anniversary parties and cried at their funerals.

“We had to work to get people to come in at first,” Stella Palios said. “The restaurant that had been here before we bought it had a bad reputation. People stood outside and asked customers coming out if we were good.”

It wasn’t on a whim that the Palioses opened their restaurant, which serves American food with a touch of Greek specialties. They both come from restaurant backgrounds.

Stella was only 10 in 1956 when her family immigrated from Greece. She grew up in Ballard, her accent rubbing vowels with Scandinavian accents at Ballard High School. Her cousins and siblings went into the restaurant business long before she thought about it. Sam, 67, had been in the business for years before the couple married in 1964. (They will celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary on Aug. 27, and Sam turns 68 the next day).

“My brother was a manager at the Edgewater Hotel when we got married. Our wedding reception was in a room there, the same night the Beatles stayed in the hotel,” she said. “It’s funny, I didn’t know who the Beatles were at the time.”

Sam Palios already had a reputation around Seattle restaurant kitchens as a chef. He turned down an offer to go to Los Angeles, instead moving his new wife to New York City, where he and a cousin operated restaurants.

“But we’re Greek,” Stella Palios said. “I wanted to come back to our family in Seattle.”

When they returned, they picked Bellevue as a good place to raise their three daughters. After looking at a couple of sites, they picked the empty restaurant space in Lake Hills Shopping Center.

It was the family thing again, she said. Families knew one another. People were drawn to the QFC grocery — the first one in the chain. There had been a hardware store, a toy store, drugstore and a bank.

Much is gone now. QFC pulled out several years ago, recently replaced by an Asian grocery store. The bank is still there, but the other stores have changed several times over.

The neighbors and neighborhood have changed, too, she said. Now, many languages are spoken in the area as waves of new immigrants have found affordable housing nearby. Although the regulars still show up, the younger clientele seems to have migrated to fast food. And new immigrants, she said, don’t seem as willing to try the mostly American food.

A year ago, the Palioses switched from a seven-day-a-week operation to six, closing on Monday. They’re open 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday).

Having Mondays off hasn’t pleased Stella Palios.

“It is difficult,” she said, “to find things to do. If we close the restaurant, I don’t know what I’m going to do. This is where my friends are.”

Horsing around

If you run, take a different track today — the oval at Emerald Downs.

For $15, you can run a mile on the same dirt the Thoroughbreds use, pick up a T-shirt, free admission to tomorrow’s Longacres Mile, have lunch and share the warm feeling of doing good.

Entry proceeds go to Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville, a nonprofit group that provides horseback therapy to people with special needs.

“We’re thrilled with our wonderful partnership with Emerald Downs,” said Little Bit Director Kathy Alm.

This is the second time this month Little Bit has benefited from horse racing. Two weeks ago, two Little Bit riders, Erin Alberda and Eric Angelo, gave a demonstration ride at the track.

Racehorse fans then had an opportunity to donate money to the program, and the Washington Thoroughbred Foundation handed Alm a $2,500 check, enough to sponsor a horse for the year.

There’s a four-footed connection between the sleek racehorses and the Little Bit stables. Two former racehorses, Star and Andy, now work at Little Bit.

“We were at Emerald Downs to let fans know racehorses have second careers,” Alm said. “Star, who raced under the name Dare to Be a Star, is a star here in our program.”

Gates open this morning at 10:30 for human racers.

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or