Maria Bobotsis knows well the devastation that the pandemic has wrought on restaurants.

The longtime owner of The Donut Stop announced in April that she would not be reopening what had become a downtown staple for classic, homemade cuisine for nearly 30 years. And her sadness was only eclipsed by many of her patrons, who organized a drive-by parade in her honor on May 29.

“It’s tough to say goodbye to the customers … I can’t thank them enough for their support,” said Bobotsis. “It is time for me to go, I’ll miss them all. It is sad to see myself go, but life goes on.

The building at 368 Howe Ave., which houses The Donut Stop, was to be razed this summer, forcing the business to close until construction was complete. Bobotsis admitted she was not sure would reopen then, but it was her own battle with the coronavirus that made the final decision much easier.

When the pandemic forced closure of indoor dining in mid-March, Bobotsis maintained take-out service until mid-April when she began to feel ill with what she thought was simple allergies. A positive Covid-19 test proved her condition much worse.

“I was never hospitalized, but I was in bed for weeks … it seemed like forever,” said Bobotsis.

Her daughter, Georgia Argianas, said the virus and her recovery put the focus on her health, not the business.

“She would have had to close anyway during this construction process, and the family had already strongly considered just shutting down at that point,” said Argianas. “But the state shutdown and her contracting the virus made the final decision easier.”

Bobotsis, a longtime waitress with a penchant for cooking incredible dishes for family and friends, bought the business in 1992. Since then, she has become known for her homemade meals and Wednesday specials, the most popular of which were the stuffed peppers or lasagna.

Argianas said the specials would sell out by early afternoon.

“I was 10 when she started,” said Argianas, who spent countless hours in the eatery with her sister, Pam. “The customers were like a real family … there were so many regulars. We really got close to so many of the people.”

The drive-by parade was organized by the Tremblay family. Lisa Tremblay said her family had become regulars and will sorely miss what they called the best breakfast in the city.

The parade featured some 25 vehicles, led by a Kabota on a trailer with Tremblay and her daughter, Faith, dressed up as cooks sitting on it. The supporters then gave Bobotsis balloons, flowers and gifts and then joined her for a champagne toast.

Argianas recalled how her mother would put in 4 a.m.-to-4 p.m. days, seven days a week. Her stepfather, Bill Pantopoulos, spent many of those hours with her helping with running what was truly a family business.

Bobotsis, 66, said all the food was made on site, including the breakfast foods, lunches and breads that had become a staple.

“There are so many loyal customers … a lot of laughs, nothing bad,” said Bobotsis, adding that at her age, the number of hours had begun to take their toll and the time had come to step away.

“We loved having our breakfast there,” said Tremblay. “Every morning, we would enjoy a fabulous breakfast with our friends we made down there. Her homemade breads, muffins and specials of the day were outstanding.”

Tremblay said Bobotsis’ homemade cookies at the holidays were a personal favorite.

“We laughed a lot with Maria,” said Tremblay. “She is so friendly, very supportive and such a caring individual. We had to find a very special way to say goodbye to the Donut Stop and give Maria a sweet send off.”

brian.gioiele@

hearstmediact.com