SWANSEA — When Yona Mehmetaj came to the United States to go to college, she left her family in Albania.
But there was a plan.
"I have been here six years and my father (Agron Mehmetaj) came here two years ago," she said. "I wanted something for my family here. Back home, my family was running for 20 years a restaurant" that catered to tourists, she said.
At 24, Yona, and her father are part owners of Swansea Family Restaurant, located on Illinois 159.
"We talked to the owner of the Red Apple (a restaurant in Maryville) and got advice from him. We wanted something family-oriented and thought that St. Louis was just too crowded," Yona said. "We looked at other areas, too, but this one felt right. It has a sense of community."
The family has embraced the village, putting its logo and motto on the front of its menu. Yona said they are planning to move to Swansea this year.
Juggling a job in banking and working on her master's degree in business administration at Maryville University, Yona also manages the restaurant.
"I wanted to be personally involved and every day see how it all runs," she said. "If anything goes wrong, I want to be the one to correct it."
Her father runs the kitchen, and along with another veteran cook, they prepare just about everything from scratch.
The menu spans a wide range of food styles, from New York strip steak and two eggs (with hash browns and toast, $8.95) to a chicken salad croissant (with soup and fries, $6.95) to Jumbo Louisiana Fried Shrimp (with soup or salad, potato and rolls, $10.75).
You'll also find five kinds of club sandwiches (with soup and fries, $6.95), five open-faced hot sandwiches (with soup, mashed potatoes and gravy, $6.45), five kinds of big salads ($7.95), plus classic dinners such as roast pork or turkey, meatloaf, fried chicken and breaded veal cutlet served with soup, salad, fries and rolls for $8.45.
Breakfast, including pancakes, waffles and omelets, is served all day and there are daily specials, such as ham and bean soup with a cornbread biscuit ($5.25) on Mondays and all-you-can-eat fish on Fridays for $8.29.
"When I wanted grilled fish instead of fried, they made me grilled fish," said Norm Geolat, of Belleville. He's been a steady customer since the restaurant opened Dec. 11.
Yona said that among the most popular menu items have been the crepes (apple, blueberry or peach, three for $5.95) and biscuits and gravy ($3.25/$4.35).
The site is a former Dairy Queen, but there is no sign of that now. The interior has been redone with dark green booths, red accents, and tan and brick walls.
Swansea Family Restaurant
Where: 1500 N. Illinois St., Swansea
Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily