Serras, sixty-four, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer this past May. After radiation and surgery, he was still somewhat slowed in August, which intensified the godfather effect: conducting business from his favorite booth of the Real Seafood Company, he lets people come to him.
Periodically well-wishers rush over and grab his hand or mention a father or mother having worked there. One day, in a scene that seemed right out of The Godfather, he concluded his interview with me while Washtenaw circuit court judge Don Shelton stood by waiting to join him for lunch. A few minutes earlier a longtime waitress had grabbed his hand, held it to her lips, and genuflected.
Real Seafood Company is now run by Mainstreet Ventures, in which Serras is a partner, and which operates sixteen restaurants in five states. Four of those are at the south end of the 300 block of Main Street: Real Seafood, Palio, Gratzi, and the Chop House (along with its dessert annex, La Dolce Vita).
The Chop House is a posh and pricey steakhouse--what Serras, who grew up in the trade, calls a "meat house." The others are all large, happy-sounding, full-service restaurants, whose customers on any day range from groups celebrating special occasions to pairs of jeans-clad drop-ins. MSV restaurants are not cheap, but they compensate by offering generous portions and friendly, down-to-earth service. All four restaurants are quite different in menu and tone. Mainstreet Ventures is not a manufacturer of cookie-cutter chain restaurants but a crafter of higher-end "concept restaurants."