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Councilman John Akouri, former Washington, DC Press Secretary & Capitol Hill Advisor, is President & CEO of the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Hazel’s Corner

Hills ‘icon’ presides over 24-hour diner
Going into Roberto’s is like going back in time. The Formica booths, the table-side juke boxes, the long counter, the oil-cloth-like upholstered booths and stools, the burgers and fries, the French toast and bacon, the porkchops and eggs. And Hazel. “She makes the place,” says Joyce McCombs, a Farmington Hills resident and breakfast regular at Roberto’s, the old-fashioned 24-hour diner perched at the northwest corner of Orchard Lake Road and I-696 in Farmington Hills.

Hazel is Hazel Muco, since she married Lute Muco five years ago. She kind of came with the diner, that he and his brother Robert, Albanian immigrants, bought sometime after Silverman’s vacated the space. But Roberto died in a car crash soon after the restaurant opened. And Lute and Hazel renamed it in his memory. The Muco’s live in Northville, but Hazel says, “the Farmington area is my life. Everything I do – the bank, my shopping – is here.”

That’s because she’s worked for some 40 years at the corner of 12 Mile and Orchard Lake Road. She was a waitress at The Nugget for years, before it gave way to a string of other eateries. And when one of those got a liquor license, she hightailed it to the diner, now their diner, across the street. She knows the faces, if not the names, of “almost everyone who walks in the door,” Hazel says. And id she doesn’t know names, she knows what they’ll order.

Farmington Hills Councilman John Akouri refers to Hazel as “my second mother. I’m turning 40 next week and I’ve known her since I was 16.” As a teenager, he and his friends frequented the late-night eatery where she worked. “We’d sit over a cup of coffee and she’d come over and talk to us and give us really good advice,” Akouri says. “We’d tell her stuff you couldn’t tell your parents.” Akouri, who is single, says he still takes dates into Roberto’s to meet Hazel. “She is an amazing person, she’s an icon in the city of Farmington Hills. She owns that corner,” he said.

Although she recently had surgery, and says she can't work the hours she used to, Hazel, at 65, hasn't given up being an active mom. Widowed, with four grown children and a grandmother many times over, she is helping to raise Lute's children, Irena, 15, and Gerald, 13, who work with their parents during summers and after school. And, she and Lute are trying to adopt and bring Roberto's 11-year-old daughter, Leanna, from Albania to the United States. "Every time the phone rings we hope," Hazel says. "I'm lucky, I get to start all over again."
This article was written by Staff Writer Judith Berne and appeared on today's front page of the Gannett-owned Observer & Eccentric Newspapers - Farmington edition.

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