From owning and operating an iconic restaurant in Lansing to revitalizing essential student programs at Michigan State, Vlahakis made a profound impact.
“Mr. Vlahakis was the ultimate professional, filled with the spirit of hospitality, a heart for service and a love for the students,” Carl Borchgrevink, John and Becky Duffey Faculty Fellow and director of the School of Hospitality Business, said. “He would do what he could to secure success for his students and his colleagues. He cared deeply for everyone — and everyone knew that to be true — but he set high expectations for academic and professional integrity and success, and everyone knew that as well.”
From iconic restaurateur to impactful educator
Vlahakis’s career began as a restaurateur with his family’s business, Jim’s Tiffany Place, while he attended high school in Lansing. From the 1940s to the 1980s, he established the restaurant as a local hotspot for legislators, lobbyists and the greater Tri-County community.
In that time, Vlahakis also graduated from MSU with a degree in hospitality business and quickly became a devoted alumnus, serving on the School’s Alumni Association board of directors for 27 years. When the time came for him to sell the family business in 1980, his strong Spartan ties led him to take on a new role as an educator. He was tasked with reinventing his alma mater’s internship program, and by relying on industry connections made over his successful career, he excelled.
In 1981, Vlahakis launched the School’s Career Expo, an essential event that has connected students with hundreds of top hospitality companies each year since.
“Prior to Career Expo, there were no hospitality-specific career fairs. He set the standard, and many followed soon after,” Borchgrevink said. “Today, it would be odd for a university hospitality program not to have its own career fair.”
In addition, in 1991, Vlahakis founded what is known today as the School’s Student and Industry Resource Center. He served as the center’s director, where he managed student internships, offered personalized guidance and built the foundation for ensuring student success going forward.
“I have treasured memories of Ange Vlahakis as a friend and mentor who established the SIRC,” Authella Collins Hawks, director of the center for more than 20 years, said. In her role, she continues the work Vlahakis started, ensuring the placement of over 800 students each year. “He envisioned a concept where students could obtain professional work experience and connect with industry leaders and alumni while assisted and guided by the School.”
In 1993, Vlahakis retired after a significant 13-year tenure on the banks of the Red Cedar, but he remained connected with his beloved alma mater.
“Throughout his retirement he was excited to hear about each new SIRC initiative or expanded service,” Collins Hawks continued. “He was my staunchest supporter as we carried on the work he began. His legacy will endure forever through all the students’ lives that have been touched through SIRC, which enables them to pursue their dreams.”
Admiration and appreciation from alumni
Perhaps where Vlahakis made the strongest impact was on the Spartans who graduated from the School in the 1980s. This set of alumni considered him to be a family-like mentor, and they took steps to honor his role in their lives.
In 2012, they established the Angelos J. and Betty Yeotis Vlahakis SIRC Scholarship to recognize Ange and his wife. The scholarship assists current students in need of financial support to complete the School’s required internship program.
“Receiving the Angelos J. and Betty Yeotis Vlahakis Scholarship during my time in the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State has helped me in incredible ways. The scholarship assisted me in growing both academically and professionally,” Marina Beale (B.A. Hospitality Business ’20) said. “It reminds me that I have people that believe in me, that supported me as a student and helped my passion blossom… Thank you so much, Mr. and Mrs. Vlahakis. Your gift will never go unnoticed to me.”
In 2017, this dedicated group of alumni came together again from across the country to celebrate Vlahakis’s 90th birthday with him and his wife in East Lansing and to announce that the endowment had reached over $90,000. At the event, there was an outpouring of appreciation from alumni recalling how Vlahakis had impacted their time as Spartans.
“Mr. Vlahakis met my parents and me at the door of Eppley Center, gave us a personal tour of the campus and his insight on the best hospitality program in the country,” Jeff White (B.A. Hospitality Management ’87), executive director of The Ohio State Faculty Club, said. “It was because of Mr. Vlahakis that I came to MSU. It was because of his drive and love for the university and the School that I have so many fond memories of the fourth floor of Eppley. And it is because of the internship program and the opportunities provided to me by Mr. Vlahakis and the entire faculty and staff of the School that I consider myself to be a successful club manager, restaurateur and family man today.”
Beth Perry (B.A. Hospitality Management ’88), leadership coach and consultant at Perry Consulting, added, “I had the great privilege to be his teaching assistant for the Introduction to the Hospitality Industry class and see firsthand the enthusiasm, commitment and pride that Mr. Vlahakis had for each student. He gave 110% to the students and inspired every person to make a difference.”
Thanks to Vlahakis’s fervent leadership, the hospitality business student experience at MSU has been forever changed. His energy and guidance will be deeply missed, but his spirit will live on for Broad Spartans for generations to come.