Emotions flow and business booms as Coney Island Cafe reopens

Emotions flow and business booms as Coney Island Cafe reopens
Billy Fokakis (Photo source: WDAM)
Billy Fokakis (Photo source: WDAM)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A fourth generation of Fokakis restaurateurs now run Coney Island Café, a Hattiesburg staple.

Business was booming Monday as the popular restaurant reopened its doors and served loyal customers after closing for months.

The former owner, Billy Fokakis, lost his battle with a rare cancer in January.

Billy Fokakis dies after brief fight with rare cancer

His children are now working to keep the 95-year-old family tradition going and to make their father proud.

"I was excited. I had to be here at five, so I woke up at four. It was like Christmas. I was anxious," said Kayla Fokakis, co-owner of Coney Island.

When the hustle and bustle slows down at Coney Island, it's bittersweet.

"It hit me that he wasn't here, and I had my moment in the back. It did get sad," Kayla said.

"He was here every day smiling and happy. You could tell when he was sick, but he would never say he was sick," said Brittany Williams in between serving tables during rush hour.

Though Billy, who rarely missed a day of work, is now missing from the crew, with support from the community, the fourth-generation owners said they're going strong.

"There are still so many stories to tell, and there are still too many generations to bring. There's no reason we should have ended it," Kayla said.

Kayla and her brother, B.J., will now run the restaurant. Kayla said her father wanted them to sell it and pursue their own dreams.

"In my heart, I just couldn't do it," Kayla said.

"It means I have my life back. This is pretty much my life. I've been here for five years," Williams said.

The smell of sizzling bacon, the sounds of laughter and the feelings of nostalgia filled the building as long-time patrons filed in for a bite to eat.

"He's smiling down, and he's happy, because they actually proved that they can do it," Williams said.

Kayla, B.J. and the crew strive to keep the tradition and values going so generations to come can feel the Coney Island experience.

"He told me to do my best, and to do it like he was working beside me," Williams said.

"The only person I'm concerned with making happy is dad," Kayla said.