By Bruce Amaro
---- — For several months last year, people in the Acre, one of Haverhill’s oldest neighborhoods, wondered what was going on.
The building on Primrose Street than once housed Al’s Place, a popular restaurant, was being gutted.
There was plenty of neighborhood chatter about what would move in — perhaps another eatery or maybe a couple of apartments.
Most new eateries were setting up downtown in the popular restaurant district, so some observers were betting against another breakfast nook or lunch place.
But five months ago, the rebuilt property began to take shape. Indeed another restaurant was coming to this thickly settled residential area.
Haverhill got lucky — Lucky’s, that is.
Michael Panousos of Peabody opened his Lucky’s restaurant there.
The owner of two other restaurants, one in North Reading, the other in Peabody, Panousos saw an opportunity to develop a restaurant business in a different way. Haverhill had what he wanted — a place to put a restaurant in the middle of an established neighborhood.
He wanted his business to be in a neighborhood setting so locals could easily bring family and friends to eat fresh food there.
Panousos said he plans to make his 251 Primrose St. building the headquarters for his restaurants.
“This is my main location and everything will grow from here in Haverhill,” Panousos said.
“Haverhill’s different,’’ he said. “I looked for a place to try something new that I had in mind, and the neighborhoods in Haverhill are a great place to set up the kind of restaurant that I want. This is a place that people can walk to, bring their families or just come in and watch TV while they eat.’’
Lucky’s hired 17 neighborhood kids to staff the new restaurant.
Panousos built Lucky’s to his own specs. He designed the building and its interior. In the restaurant and fast-food business for 24 years, he designed the interior to look informal, with exposed painted steel beams and joists, overhead track lighting and a tiled counter and floor.
The menu includes pizzas and subs, full meals with meats, cold cuts, fish and chips, vegetables, salads and pastas.
“We want to serve up a healthy choice,’’ Panousos said. “We steam vegetables, grill our foods for flavor and healthy eating. We try to run a green business and are conscious of what people want to eat, and we keep it affordable.’’
Panousos makes his own dough every day.
Panousos said that he shopped for a Haverhill location and settled on the old Al’s Place for a reason.
“Look around you,’’ he said. “This is in the neighborhood. See the three deckers, the well-kept single homes. People can eat well close to home. They don’t have to go far. I have a TV here for the locals who want to stop in for a while to eat, talk, meet friends from the neighborhood over a good meal that they can afford.’’
Panousos ran several smaller food shops with his parents before venturing out on his own. He uses fresh ingredients, freshly delivered vegetables, and meats that he buys daily.