In the early 1900s, an influx of immigrants came to the Greater Birmingham area, looking for jobs in the booming iron- and steel-making industry. It was a time when the country was on the cusp of the exciting breakthroughs of the Roaring ’20s — a time when women would win the right to vote, the flapper would introduce a new sense of femininity, and jazz and Art Deco would infuse the culture with excitement and style.

Founder Tom Bonduris at the original eatery, the Bright Star cafe, a 25-seat eatery with a horseshoe-shaped bar

Founder Tom Bonduris at the original eatery, The Bright Star Cafe, a 25-seat restaurant with a horseshoe-shaped bar

The first art advertising The Bright Star reveals that the star has always been central to the logo. The Bright Star went from a 25-seat cafe to a sprawling restaurant that can seat over 300 people.

The first art advertising The Bright Star reveals that the star has always been central to the logo. The Bright Star went from a 25-seat cafe to a sprawling restaurant that can seat over 300 people.

In 1907, Greek immigrant Tom Bonduris opened the original Bright Star, a 25-seat cafe with a horseshoe-shaped bar in downtown Bessemer, then a bustling coal and iron ore town. Since its earliest days, The Bright Star has been a meat-and-three with a Greek flair, serving Southern favorites — such as country-fried steak, roast beef, fried chicken, chicken and dumplings and fried snapper throat, along with a wide assortment of fresh vegetables and to-die-for homemade desserts — for lunch and dinner, seven days a week.

The informal eatery moved locations three times, trying to find the right fit, and, in 1915, Tom finally settled on the restaurant’s current location on 19th Street North in Bessemer, a 30-minute drive from Birmingham. The new Bright Star featured sleek ceiling fans, chic tile floors, and elegant mirrored and marble walls that reflected the burgeoning modernity of the era and brought a new, more sophisticated dining experience to the town. In exchange for Tom’s delicious home-cooked meals, one itinerant European artist would paint murals in the restaurant. The crowd-pleasing home cooking paired with the Neoclassical interiors were a welcome addition to the community. Tom soon needed help to keep up with his booming business.

The original tile floors from the current location, established in 1915, are still in the main dining room today.

The original tile floors from the current location, established in 1915, are still in the main dining room today.

The neon sign that hangs above the awning exudes the charm of a bygone era.

The neon sign that hangs above the awning exudes the charm of a bygone era.

The seafood gumbo at The Bright Star is one of their most popular dishes. It may not be the most colorful dish, but it is certainly one of the tastiest! Image: Nik Layman

The seafood gumbo at The Bright Star is one of their most popular dishes. It may not be the most colorful dish, but it is certainly one of the tastiest! Image: Nik Layman

A classic sight at The Bright Star — fried fish, collards and squash! Image: Nik Layman

A classic sight at The Bright Star — fried fish, collards and squash! Image: Nik Layman

Today's specials are listed on a whiteboard in the lobby. The Bright Star's signature cole slaw can be dressed up to your liking, and the crab cakes are delicious!

Today’s specials are listed on a whiteboard in the lobby. The Bright Star‘s signature coleslaw can be dressed up to your liking, and the crab cakes are delicious!

As was custom for immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, Tom sponsored family members to help him operate his growing restaurant. In 1923, Tom helped his two cousins, Pete and Bill Koikos, emigrate from their hometown of Peleta, Greece. Two years later the brothers purchased an ownership interest in the restaurant, and since 1968, Bill’s two sons, Jimmy and Nicky Koikos, have owned and operated the business.

“My favorite thing about The Bright Star is its unique family atmosphere. The restaurant has a long and strong bond with its guests and staff,” says Stacey Craig, Bill Koikos’ niece. She and her cousin, Chef Andreas Anastassakis, are the third generation to join in the day-to-day operations of The Bright Star.

“The Bright Star is unique, in that we have whole snapper delivered weekly from Panama City, FL, and hand cut on the premises. It is the freshest in town,” says Stacey. “The most unusual dish is the Fried Snapper Throats, which is a misnomer. The meat is not actually from the throat, but the front part of the snapper behind the head. It is delicious white meat and is not available at most seafood houses, since most restaurants do not hand cut their fish.” Other popular seafood dishes include the seafood gumbo, lobster and crabmeat au gratin, and the broiled seafood platter. The Bright Star Greek-style tenderloin — a choice cut of tenderloin, marinated in olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano for 48 hours — was voted Best Steak in Alabama by the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. In 2010, The Bright Star received a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award as one of America’s Classics, among the country’s top culinary talent, in a ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York.

Jim and Nick Koikos attended the James Beard Foundation awards ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York City, where they received The Bright Star's award for "America's Classic."

Jim and Nicky Koikos attended the James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York City in 2010, where they received The Bright Star’s award for being one of America’s Classics.

The strawberry shortcake is a seasonal fave at The Bright Star. Served with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream atop a rich, dense to-die-for pound cake, this is an unforgettable dessert.

The strawberry shortcake is a seasonal favorite at The Bright Star. Served with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream atop a rich, dense, to-die-for pound cake, this is an unforgettable dessert.

The award-winning lemon icebox pie is a perennial favorite at The Bright Star. Image: Nik Layman

The award-winning lemon icebox pie is a perennial favorite at The Bright Star. Image: Nik Layman

"Jimmy — Thanks for being such a 'good buddy' to my dad," reads an autographed note from the renowned actress Sandra Bullock on one of the handful of pictures of her enjoying a meal at The Bright Star. Here, she is pictured with co-owner Jim Koikos, left, and her father, right.

“Jimmy — Thanks for being such a ‘good buddy’ to my dad,” reads an autographed note from the renowned actress Sandra Bullock on one of the handful of pictures of her enjoying a meal at The Bright Star. Here, she is pictured with co-owner Jim Koikos, left, and her father, right.

These accolades are framed on the walls of the restaurant’s lobby alongside articles from admiring journalists and images of the restaurant in various phases of its storied history. Pictures of well-known celebrities and sports personalities — such as Sandra Bullock, Charles Barkley, Dabo Swinney and Bart Starr — posing with Jimmy and Nicky decorate the forest green walls.

The success of The Bright Star lies in its consistent, crowd-pleasing dishes in an unpretentious environment, where service is king. And the proof is in the pudding: For the past 109 years, the customer base has continued to grow, necessitating multiple expansions and renovations. Throughout the years, the dining room has expanded to include the 1907 room bedecked in stained glass with features mimicking the original establishment, as well as the Dixie and Green rooms to accommodate the growth of the restaurant’s banquet business. More recently, a spacious lobby and bar were added and the kitchen was remodeled. And today, Stacey and Andreas are gearing up for more growth with the launch of The Bright Star Catering Company this summer.

Visit The Bright Star restaurant in Bessemer for a quintessential classic American dining experience!

Visit The Bright Star restaurant in Bessemer for a quintessential classic American dining experience!

Jimmy and Nicky can still be found, walking among the booths on the 100-year-old tile floors and marbled walls of The Bright Star, delivering plates of hot food to hungry customers, asking if patrons are enjoying their meals and catching up with loyal regulars. And in honor of the restaurant’s rich history, the murals once painted by that itinerant European artist and covered up with the patina of time, are currently being restored to their former glory by a renowned restoration artist — making this star of a restaurant shine even brighter.

The Bright Star is located at 304 19th St. N. in Bessemer and is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Lunch hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner hours are 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. To learn more, call (205) 426-1861 or visit thebrightstar.com.

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