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Chris Kappas: Earlier you mentioned a story about my family. It is my family, but it really starts out with my dad.

Joe Forte: Yeah.

Chris: Nick H. Kappas. Actually, it's Nick C. Kappas. He did an H at Ellis Island in Greek. Chris means Chrisostos, with an H, C-H-R-I-S-O-S-T-O-S.

Joe: And is that your first name?

Chris: That's my first name. My first name is Chris.

Joe: But derived from that, your dad's--

Chris: Derived from my grandfather, from his father. In Greece, they usually go back a generation rather than being a junior. If you're a firstborn son on the father's side, you're named after his father. So it would be my grandfather that I'm named after.

Joe: I see.

Chris: You follow me?

Joe: Yeah. Well, let's stop there a second.

Chris: Okay.

Joe: With your name. Let me just say that the narrator of this oral history is Chris Kappas.

Chris: Absolutely.

Joe: Longtime resident and business owner and property owner in Blacksburg, Virginia. I am Joe Forte, the interviewer for this session. We're recording it on July 30th at roughly two o'clock in the afternoon on the first floor of Newman Library. We started talking about your dad. Let's go back there, and you 1:00mentioned his father and your father. I'm interested in, I guess beginning with the story of when they parted, when your dad left his family in Greece and came to America. I guess these would be mostly stories that you heard from him.

Chris: Yes. Exactly.

Joe: What's your sense of why he took that step?

Chris: That's a wonderful question, and I asked him that. My father's family and my mother's family come from a very mountainous area of Greece called Evrytania, Evrytania in English. You think of Greece as the Greek Isles and all that, but it's a very mountainous country. In a sense, you know why the ancients had Greek 2:00city-states: they just couldn't get to each other! The mountains separated them. Very poor area of Greece, very hard to get to. He was one of maybe four or five children. How the family heard of the United States of America is sort of still a big question mark.

Joe: Where are we in time?

Chris: We are in time in 19--he was born in 1900. He came to the United States thirteen years old. Obviously, the family heard of America somewhere. Maybe you could obviously do a better living than you could do in Greece taking care of sheep and goats and chickens. We were very--agricultural type of thing. You lived off the land. America, it sounded strange to him. But evidently, he made 3:00the decision to leave central part of Greece, Evrytania or Evrytania. The capital--they had an original capital, Karpenissi. We're talking about, from Athens back in those days, at least a ten hour ride, a ten hour trip, either by car or donkey or horse or whatever.

Joe: Is that on the Mediterranean side of the Agean?

Chris: It is a central part of Greece. Very central part of Greece. That's why you hardly ever hear of it. It's north of Lamia. Are you looking at a map now?

Joe: I'm looking at a map, but it's small.

Chris: It's north of a big city called Lamia, but it's very central. The area that was given to--where my father was born called Agrafa. In Greek, that means "not written", and there may have been several villages like that, the same 4:00name. They had a big problem with the Ottoman Empire, the Turks, when Turkey took over Greece. Most of the Greeks ran up into the mountains, and they didn't give them any names! They called them Agrafa, not written. Absolutely incredible. But they knew where everybody was. Very small villages. A village may contain eight to ten houses, maybe fifteen, and just scattered from mountainside to mountainside, hard, very rough terrain.

Joe: How did they live?

Chris: Off the land. When I first visited Greece right out of high school and I 5:00went up to my father's village--this was 1959, right out of high school--I was absolutely amazed at the living conditions. Not that they were in need of money or anything, they ate off the land. But just how they lived, the hardships that they had.

Joe: When you went in [19]59, were you with your father?

Chris: I was not. My father was--I left my father and my mother here. I had just finished high school, maybe I did a couple of quarters of Virginia Tech. Growing up in Blacksburg, I had sort of lost my Greekness, my Greek language, and my parents said, well, let's send Chris back to Greece or send him to Greece. Maybe he can renew the Greek language and get to know his culture a little better. That's what happened. I think I left in the middle of June. I wanted basically to stay for a couple of months, but I was so overwhelmed by Greece as a 6:00youngster, I stayed almost through Thanksgiving and Christmas. I only came back for Christmas. Started school at [Virginia] Tech late. But the region just amazed me with how people lived and how they cherished their culture and their religion. They've never messed with their religion. But also I think the Ottoman Empire, the Turks, over six hundred years, they probably saw that these guys were not that bad or not that violent, and they sort of left them alone as long as they didn't attack the Turks personally. But they did have a horrible hardship with a lot of the other populations there, from what I understand. In Asia Minor of course, where the Ottoman Turks took over, Asia Minor were like 80 or 90 percent national Greeks. They went all the way into the middle of Turkey, 7:00practically. You've got a lot of the Turkish names now from Greek names: İzmir--Smyrna [Zmýrna], Constantinople is actually Istanbul. But they never said Istanbul. In Greek, it's "Is tin Poli", in the city. The Turks being--I don't want to use the word illiterate or uneducated maybe--sort of picked up on Greek phrases. That's why you have a lot of Turkish words that sound, when I say a Turkish word, it's a Greek word. It's amazing.

Joe: Did you relate the conditions that you found that you're remarking on back to your father, and did you get a sense that it was largely unchanged from the time he left?

Chris: Yeah, it was unchanged by the time he left, because my father left in 1913.

Joe: No but I mean, you were speaking of the conditions when you went back in [19]59.


Chris: In [19]59 and then went back some more, but they're better obviously. They do have electricity, they have running indoor plumbing and all that sort of thing. But yeah, they're much, much better. But the roads are still horrendous. [Laughter] You sort of take your life in your hands when you drive in the back roads of Greece. You hear a lot about the Italian roads. But with the European Union, they made a lot of changes. But in 1959, I took a lot of pictures and when I bought them back, my dad said it had not changed that much in 1959. He came over thirteen years old.

Joe: Then was it hardship or seeking opportunity that brought him?

Chris: It's an overused term, the American dream. I'm not sure if it was called the American dream. There was a movie made a long time ago called America America, I'm not sure, by Elia Kazan who was a Greek and lived in Turkey. I 9:00think I saw that movie. Anyway, it was hard, and there's no way you can compare our life, especially today, with the hardships that they had. I see now pictures in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of course the war-torn countries that-- I can see what they're going through.

Joe: Do you think he had the blessing of his parents in that?

Chris: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. He had the blessing of his parents and he was frightened. He told me he was frightened. He didn't know when he went to Athens, he didn't know--

Joe: He's so young.

Chris: What to do. He got on an Italian freighter called the Marine Carp, I think. I talked to a couple of my Italian American friends here in the United States whose parents came over on the same ship. He relates that they took about a month to get from the port of Athens, Piraeus, to get to the United States. It 10:00took about a month and a half on what I call a banana boat.

Joe: So if he was thirteen and he was born in 1900, he's leaving just before the outbreak of war in Europe--

Chris: World War I.

Joe: And a few, a couple of years before Greece's entry.

Chris: Absolutely. World War I and World War II. The World War I was what, 19--?

Joe: 1914.

Chris: 1914, 1915, somewhere.

Joe: I think [19]16, Greece entered.

Chris: Yeah. Greece was involved obviously in World War I and of course in World War II. But he wound up, when he saw Ellis--not Ellis Island, but the Statue of Liberty before entering Ellis Island, I think he had the same emotions that I had when I came over at nine years old myself, which is another story we'll get 11:00to. I think it overwhelmed him, and I might get a little emotional talking about that. I guess he didn't know what to expect. He saw a statue, he heard about the Statue of Liberty, and then that landed on Ellis Island. I think his concern was about being turned back, 50 to 60 percent of the immigrants who came were turned back for health reasons, mostly tuberculosis. They examined him. The immigration officers were there in uniform. The name was Kappas, Nicholas Kappas. They didn't see any reason to change that, because they figured anybody can pronounce Cappas or Kappas. So if you were Papadopoulos, you change that to Pappas. If 12:00you're a Karageorge, it's changed to George or Karas or something like that. But it was mostly done by immigration officers, and they heard or seen men going to Ellis Island and seeing videos of what, these people just waiting in line and sweating it out, where they're going to get admitted to the United States with baggage and children and literally the clothes on their back. My father didn't have any money, didn't have a sponsor. He heard about some Greeks maybe in Erie, Pennsylvania, but he didn't know anybody. He got on a train off New York and went to Erie, and he saw that it was a railroad town. Maybe stayed there a couple of months. Heard about some Greeks in Roanoke, Virginia.

Joe: Was he trying to pick up work, day labor?

Chris: Oh yeah, anything he could do. But basically, that's how he got to the United States, not knowing anything. He left family behind. I can't imagine having children of my own, or myself, leaving my parents at thirteen years old to go to a land that is unknown to you, other than what you heard. Emotionally, I just can't imagine it. I have a regret in that I did not record my dad over the years as I grew up. I grew up here in Blacksburg, Sunset Boulevard. I should have recorded a lot of things. We would sit on the couch particularly on Sundays when we were not working in the restaurant business, and he would relate stories of the Turkish occupation. It was incredible. It was just incredible. You hear a lot of the Jewish Holocaust, six million people, which was horrible. But you 13:00never hear anything about the Armenian Holocaust at the Ottoman Empire, to wipe away a whole country. When Hitler was exterminating the Jewish people, one of his lieutenants, I believe--you're a history guy--one of his lieutenants says, mein Fuhrer, people are going to hear about this. And Hitler turned around and said, have you ever heard of the Armenians? And the guy says, no, nobody's ever heard about them. Two million people. Of course, Stalin did, what? Forty to fifty million of his own people. That's a 10 million dollar gap. I digress. [Laughter]

Joe: Can we pause it for a second?


Chris: We can edit this all out.

Joe: I wanna ask Slade. I can hear some noise from youplaying with your wire. Is that--

Slade Lelock: It's picking up just a little bit.

Joe: Okay, yeah.

Slade: It's picking up a little bit.

Chris: That's part of my nervousness.

Joe: I'm sorry.

Chris: No. We're good.

Joe: I just didn't want to break anything.

Chris: No. We're good.

Joe: So your dad's in Erie, Pennsylvania--

Chris: In Erie, Pennsylvania.

Joe: And he's a kid and just trying to figure--

Chris: Looking for work.

Joe: Looking for work and just looking to stay alive. Was his intention to send money back? Was that--?

Chris: Always. That was always his intention, and he never forgot that, up to ninety-eight years old when he passed away. He felt that was his obligation, part of his family duty to help support his family back in Greece.

Joe: So something like, he's using what he needs to feed himself and travel as 15:00he needs and sending the rest back? Is that the ratio you gather, sending the rest of it back?

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I don't know what he sent back, but back in those days, any amount of money was worth a fortune.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Any amount of money was greatly appreciated by the family.

Joe: What draws him south to Roanoke or Southwest Virginia?

Chris: He'd heard there was some Greeks from the province that he was from, the central part of Greece. He'd heard that there was some Greeks there. And the traveling mainly was all by train, mostly train and some bus. Did wind up in Roanoke, Virginia and found some people that were from the same province that he was from and started working. From what I understand, he couldn't find a job there immediately in Roanoke, but he heard about making ice cream in Salem, Virginia, which was about less than ten miles away. He had a little apartment in 16:00Market Square in Downtown Roanoke where the market is now. Matter of fact, I think his little apartment was in the same building where the Market Square is in. There was also, the early Greeks set up the Greek Orthodox church in the same place. Anyway, he heard about making handmade ice cream in Salem, Virginia, and got a job there, no English, and I may have related the story to you earlier. He'd get on the bus and would approach Salem City limits. Of course, early on he did not know how to read English, and after a while he got to reading the sign and it said, "Welcome to Salem, Virginia. No foreigners. No Jews. No 'N-people' allowed." My dad, the way he said it, he learned to keep his 17:00mouth shut pretty quickly. Knew when to speak out and when not to speak out.

Joe: Right. In terms of opposing that policy or because his accent is giving him away or--?

Chris: His accent is giving him away and he didn't want to get hurt. He was a foreigner. The word foreigner back in those days meant you were not wanted. Although, our early immigrants forgot where they came from 'cause we are a nation of immigrants. I would like to mention something, put it in today's proper context, that my father was a legal immigrant. [Laughter] I like to joke about that, but has nothing to do with today's situation.

Joe: The ice cream shop, is that Greek owned?

Chris: Joe, I don't know. I don't think it was. I'm sure it wasn't. But I do remember that when he would get home at night, his hands would hurt because of making it by his hands and calluses and the cold and how hard it was.

Joe: He was stirring cream or something.

Chris: He was stirring cream, yeah. And I think he worked there maybe for about a year, maybe less than a year. He seemed to emphasize that no matter how hard work--he'd worked all of his life, he said, that seemed to be the hardest part, of him making homemade ice cream by hand.

Joe: You're saying that's the hardest job that he had.

Chris: He seemed to think so. It woke him up a little bit. It's gonna be a hard road. It's gonna be tough.

Joe: But so just a year then, but he stayed in food service, restaurant businesses?

Chris: Yeah, then he got to know people in Roanoke.

Joe: Is he relying on the Greek community that he went there to find?

Chris: Not really. But after a while, he did. He had to get a job with people of his own culture, his own race, his own background. His first job, I'm gonna have to tell all of this to my friends in Roanoke, the people who are still around. A Mr. Koniavetis gave him his first job at the restaurant in Roanoke. He happened to be definitely from the same area as my dad, maybe a different village, maybe an hour or two away. Mr. Koniavetis gave him his first job, and he liked my dad 18:00a lot. He liked my dad a lot. I think he worked there until the time that he came to Blacksburg in 1921. Got to know all the Greek immigrants in Roanoke pretty good. They got to know him, they got to like him. He was part of the original church, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church that we have now. It made him feel better being with people that he had something in common with. Definitely much better. But it was hard work, very hard work.

Joe: Did you say he came to Blacksburg in [19]21?

Chris: In 1921.

Joe: He's been now something like seven years in the country?

Chris: Seven years. We had on Thanksgiving Day, up to, when I was at [Virginia] Tech, the VPI-VMI football game on Thanksgiving called the Military Classic of the South. Virginia Tech back then was mostly known as a military school and so 19:00was VMI, and they became a very big rivalry even when I was in the Corps of Cadets for about a year. The cadets from both schools would go to these restaurants downtown and eat there before they would march into Victory Stadium and the football game, which was around one or two o'clock. The owners of the restaurants got to know the cadets pretty good over a period of three or four years till they graduated. That's how my dad got to know the seniors from VPI Corps of Cadets. They got to know him as Mr. Nick, as a freshman or as a rat. The second year, they came, went back to the same restaurant, whatever. Finally, they said, Mr. Nick, why don't you come to Blacksburg and open up a restaurant in Blacksburg?


Joe: He's not running the restaurant in Roanoke, right?

Chris: No. He may have become a small interest as a partner in Mr. Koniavetis' restaurant. I think he did become a small interest in it.

Joe: Do you know what type of restaurant, like what kind of--?

Chris: Just greasy hamburgers, hot dogs, meatloaf. Just Southern type of food. Hot dogs and burgers.

Joe: Why do you think when they're telling him to come to Blacksburg? How does he represent that?

Chris: I think they sort of liked my dad.

Joe: Because he was friends with some of the customers.

Chris: Because he was friends with some of the customers. He was friends with them, and they wanted--they said, why don't you come to Blacksburg? Finally he did. Joe, I don't remember if he had a car. I think he got on a bus and came to Blacksburg.

Joe: And this is his first visit to Blacksburg?

Chris: Yes, his first visit. I think later on, he came by car. He came into Main Street and located one of his restaurants to the right-hand of the downtown post office that we have now. There's a little tattoo bar there, a tattoo place there now, something, I'm not sure.

Joe: You're talking about on Roanoke Street between Main--

Chris: Between Main and Roanoke.

Joe: Okay, that corner there.

Chris: That corner there. Where the post office is now to the right if you face the post off to the right.

Joe: Oh, I see what you're saying.

Chris: Anyway, I think maybe he opened a little restaurant there for about four or five months. Then he located where the present Cellar building is now.

Joe: Do you have any sense of his process in terms of making the decision to move to Blacksburg to open a restaurant? Where did the funding come from? What kind of development of the idea and then the business--does he relay any of that?

Chris: I think it was a matter of curiosity and liking the cadets more than anything else. He liked the students when they talked to him. Finding the present location, I don't recall how he found it, but it was vacant obviously. That building where the Cellar is now goes back to 1890. I think funding in a way we think about it today is out of the question. I think he just saved up a little money to open up his own business. He never told me that he borrowed any money from a financial institution or from a friend or anything like that. I don't recall him asking people for money. I think he just saved up a little bit.

Joe: Do you get the sense it was a no brainer because he saw the opportunity to 21:00better his position or was he nervous because of the risk? Does he speak of any of that?

Chris: I think the opportunity is a good word, because I think it's in our blood. We of Greek ethnic background, we feel that we want to do something on our own and by ourselves and see how it's gonna happen and see how it evolves. He wanted also to better himself, obviously financially. But don't forget, he had obligations in Greece. His family, his parents, his brothers and his sisters. He had tremendous obligations. He probably knew that working with somebody else for four or five dollars an hour, even less, maybe wasn't gonna make it. I think his dream was--and I'm not saying only Greeks are betting background, but I think most of the people that came in from Europe had that dream of accomplishing something on their own. I think my dad was no different. 22:00I gave him that credit that he made the decisions by himself. It's overwhelming to me just thinking about doing something like that without having any knowledge of what's gonna happen to me.

Joe: You're saying he's making the decisions by himself. Do you think he's discussing it with folks back home at all?

Chris: I don't think so.

Joe: Too much lag.

Chris: Discussing it with folks back home would be about two months of correspondence back and forth. When he would send money, checks, whatever he would send, it would be a month or later before he received a thank you or whatever that, I got your money, and all that sort of stuff. But he did decide on 302 North Main Street where the Cellar restaurant is now, where the six-pack 23:00store is now.

Joe: That's like one or two doors up from the very end. What was the building like back then? Was that door to the downstairs there?

Chris: The building was as is still now. It was never two buildings. There was one building with steps going up and that was two businesses; one on the left, one on the right, and the steps going up to the apartments where you were at my office the other day.

Joe: Do you know what was there on the corner?

Chris: I want to say a pool hall. He's got, opening up a restaurant next door--

Joe: A restaurant next door. What was that restaurant like? What was it called? Was he alone in it, or did he have a partner?

Chris: He called it the Busy Bee Restaurant.

Joe: Like bee, the insect?

Chris: Yes. The Busy Bee Restaurant. But there was something weird about that. Nobody called it the Busy Bee Restaurant. It was called the restaurant that the Greek owned. Where are you going? Down to the Greek's, not the Busy Bee Restaurant. It was known, always for that.

Joe: It's not Greek food, though, at this time?

Chris: No, Lord no.

Joe: Just Greek ownership.

Chris: It's Greek ownership, by a foreigner, whether it was Greek or Italian or whatever. I think one of the locals one time told him, he said, Mr. Nick, you're not gonna be accepted till you been here in Blacksburg fifty years and bought yourself a piece of real estate up at the cemetery. Then we'll accept you. It's remarkable, the Greeks. Sometime later, I had a good friend out of Roanoke, he says, I'd like to become your partner. Guy was named Mr. Louie Karanikas. Louie Karanikas. So my dad told him, come on down Blacksburg, became a partner, and 24:00they changed the name from the Busy Bee Restaurant to the L&N, Louie and Nick Cafe or Louie and Nick Lunch. There we go again. It was not the L&N Lunch. It was a restaurant owned by the Greeks. It's just, there was a--what do you call it in English? A synonym? Not a synonym. What?

Joe: A nickname?

Chris: A nickname, [Laughter] the Greek's. Everybody, that's what they called it.

Joe: Was it successful? His friend wanted to come into the successful business?

Chris: Yes, it was, very. My dad built up a great business, and I think that's why Louie wanted to come up and join him because he saw that there was a need for a good restaurant, restaurants in Blacksburg. I don't recall. I should have asked Mr. Smith. I think the College Inn restaurants came in later with Joe's--Joe's is on Main Street now. They were very, very good. They were never 25:00competitive. They were very good friends.

Joe: Are you saying those are the only two in town at the time?

Chris: There was a couple more. One called Meredith's, but that became a diner later on. Back then, there was about two or three restaurants. There weren't that many, if I recall correctly. I think later on the Hokie House came in, SportsCenter where Mike's Grill came on.

Joe: The Hokie House was a bus station initially, right?

Chris: Hokie House was a bus station, absolutely.

Joe: Do you know what year that changed?

Chris: To the Hokie House?

Joe: Yeah, like that it became a restaurant?

Chris: Let's see. I came in from Greece in 19--

Joe: So after your arrival?

Chris: After my arrival, exactly, because I used to take the bus up at the bus stop, where the Hokie House was, I would take the bus to go to Christiansburg or to go to Roanoke to church with my mother, and it was a bus stop. It was just called Mrs. Ryman's Bus Stop if I'm not--it was never the Hokie House. Just 26:00called the bus stop. If I had other names, I will try to remember.

Joe: So Louie and Nick.

Chris: Louie and Nick, the Greeks.

Joe: The Greek's have--

Chris: Very, very successful.

Joe: Same spot.

Chris: Same spot, but everybody called it the Greek's.

Joe: What year is this now?

Chris: We are now into 19--I want to say 1925, 1926, before prohibition. Louie died, and I should know that date. I'll go back and find it. Louie died, and he changed the name to the Blue Ribbon Restaurant. We have three different names, legal names now.

Joe: But let me guess, same nickname?

Chris: Same nickname. [Laughter] Same nickname. No problem. Louie died. Later on, after school and more family came in, which we'll discuss later on, when we remodeled the restaurant that my dad owned, we remodeled, we said, there's not gonna be any more name changes, we're just going to call it the Greek's Restaurant. Then when 1963 came, we decided to do the basement, we called it the Greek Cellar. Obviously now it's the Cellar Restaurant. The new owner, Kevin Long, as wonderful that he is, felt that, why maintain the Greek's, because it's sort of fading? Let's just change it to the Cellar Restaurant. That's what he's got it, Cellar Restaurant.

Joe: That's what we always called it in the [19]80s and [19]90s, the Cellar.

Chris: The Cellar Restaurant.

Joe: At that time there was a Greek's, which was pizza or something like that, just behind the Cellar.

Chris: Yeah, that happened as an offshoot from my small family disagreement, but we'll go into that later. We'll go into that later.

Joe: So it's the mid-twenties?

Chris: Mid-twenties, and all of a sudden--

Joe: Blue Ribbon.

Chris: Are we out of time here?

Joe: No, I don't think so. I think Slade was just listening and that buzz just appeared.

Chris: I'm going to leave it with a great thing here.

Slade: Okay, hold that thought.

Chris: Hold that thought. Take your time.

Slade: I don't want to interrupt here, I just to make sure we get good quality. I think I can turn this off--

Joe: It's not an ideal sound room.

Chris: Yeah, it's good. This was nice. I enjoyed this.

Joe: Great.

Chris: You're a good interviewer.

Joe: Thank you. You're a good narrator.

Chris: You should go into radio or TV.

Joe: I'll give it some thought.

Chris: Have you thought about that?

Joe: A little bit.

Chris: Are we being recorded now?

Joe: Yeah, we're still rolling.


Chris: Okay, good. You know, you ask just wonderful questions.

Joe: Thank you.

Chris: I can never do this. I have some stuff written down but I can never do this.

Slade: We're going to have to live with it. It's fine though. It's barely audible.

Chris: Is it hot for y'all? I'm comfortable.

Joe: No, it was just a sound thing.

Slade: It's fine.

Chris: We were talking about before prohibition, Louie had just died. Prohibition was, what, 1928, 1929, something like that?

Joe: Something like that, I guess.

Chris: Anyway, Congress overrules prohibition, makes it legal to drink alcohol legally, whatever age. So my dad being the entrepreneur that he was--

Joe: So if prohibition is ending, he's now in his thirties, right?

Chris: Yeah, somewhere in there. He says, you know, why don't I apply for a beer wine license? Prohibition is over.

Joe: He's in it alone. It's Blue Ribbon still.

Chris: He's into the Blue Ribbon Restaurant, exactly. He applies to the Virginia ABC Board, whatever it was called back then, to sell beer and wine in his restaurants. He was turned down in a heartbeat. Absolutely. Don't forget, we live in a Bible Belt. It goes all the way up to DC. Knowing my dad, he was not about to give up.

Joe: His sense then, and what your sense is, that he's turned down because the area is seeking to maintain a dry status even into the post prohibition?

Chris: He's turned down for a variety of reasons. Obviously, Virginia being a dry state, Bible Belt, the local Ministerial Association, very Baptist, very conservative, to the right of Attila the Hun. Don't forget also that Virginia Tech, VPI, was a military school. VPI had a strict alcohol policy, no alcohol. 28:00It was military. We found out about this later. He decides to apply a second time. Turned down again. No good reason given. To make a long story short, he's turned down a third time. By that time, he's really frustrated. Again, the immigrant man, his entrepreneur sense begins to work. He doesn't know anybody. According to my dad, one afternoon, he thinks about this, I'm quoting my dad, I take off my apron, walk out of the restaurant, go straight to Burruss Hall, to Dr. Burruss's office. I think it was Dr. Burruss. We got to look it up.


Joe: Go ahead, you can keep talking.

Chris: He introduces himself to his secretary, goes into his office, and says, my name is Nick Kappas. I own the Blue Ribbon Restaurant downtown. I have been applying for a beer/wine license for the last several months and I have been turned down. President says, okay. But I wish to tell you that if I apply once more, and if I am granted a license to sell beer and wine, I promise you that I will sell it off-premises only, not on-premises. Then if I have a violation of the ABC laws--or whatever they were back then--I will not reapply again.


Joe: He's going to sell package goods and not serve?

Chris: Not serve on premises.

Joe: And beer and wine only? Okay.

Chris: So he set up a little counter in the back of the restaurant where he displayed beer and wine to-go only.

Joe: So Burruss accepts this and advocates for it? It is Burruss, by the way. I looked it up.

Chris: It is Burruss. Evidently. He got his license. Got to know Dr. Burruss pretty well, but that's another story. But there is a caveat. Caveat, is that the word?

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Sort of a mouse trap here. As soon as he got his license, the university declares the Blue Ribbon Restaurant off-limits.

Joe: The university. Is the university--there's the Corps of Cadets and the civilians or it's just--

Chris: It's called the VPI. The civilians were mostly GI students coming back from World War II and getting an education. GIs, or GI Bill.

Joe: But at this point, we're still in the [19]30s.

Chris: Yeah, we're still in the [19]30s practically. We're still in the [19]30s. The university declares my dad's restaurant off-limits. It was like that till we remodeled the restaurant in early 1960 before we did the Cellar. We sold beer on premises. And when we did--no, that's right, I forgot now. When we did The Cellar, we sold beer on premises for the first time, 'cause I remember writing a letter to the editor of the Virginia Tech paper. Back then, I knew her, Luc--oh my God, I forgot her name now. She was editor of the Virginia Tech.

Joe: The Collegiate Times.

Chris: The Collegiate Times.

Joe: It was called The Virginia Tech at some point. I'm not sure when it changed.

Chris: It was called Virginia Tech at some point. I wrote her a letter--I don't remember if I sent a letter to copy to Dr. Hahn or not, I don't think I did--and tell them that we will be exercising our on-premise license to sell alcoholic beverages on-premise. But we still only had a wine/beer license, we did not have liquor. That off limits was a black mark on my family and my dad, because growing up in Blacksburg, oh, your dad owns the Greek's, we're not allowed to go there. It was never indicated in black and white, there was only off limits to the Corps of Cadets. It was sort of a blanket description of off limits. He lost a lot of business, but then people knew them. I shouldn't say this, but a lot of people, after he got his license, would come in the backdoor on Friday or 31:00Saturday night, people who were faculty, without mentioning names--and you would know immediately who I'm talking about, that building is named after one of them--would get to come in Friday or Saturday, who would get beer to take out from the back door. The back door then was mostly for, guess what? Our Black customers, because they weren't allowed to come in the front door. We lived in a segregated community. The [19]60s changed all this.

Joe: But the [19]60s are a ways away at this point.

Chris: Whatever.

Joe: Yeah [Laughter].

Chris: That's another--what we have done to the Black community is unconscionable. And I would say most residents out on Nellies Cave Road who were Black, worked for my dad. I got pictures. One of the best chefs, one of the best cooks, was Smokey Colin, best cook in the world, worked for my dad. We have 32:00pictures of all the Black help. It was Mr. Nick this and Mr. Nick that. They worshiped my dad. He worshiped them! John's barber shop in the 1960s, we had a Black barber shop down from the Lyric Theater. All Black barbers. Got a call from John the barber. Two brothers owned it. The patrons were all white. He said, Mr. Nick--came up the restaurant at the backdoor--Mr. Nick, we've been discussing this for a while. There's five or six of us that are gonna come to your restaurant next week and come through the front door. Is that gonna be okay? And eat at your restaurant? My father looked at him, says. John, of course it's gonna be okay. How long have you known me, it's not going to be okay? 33:00Slowly, people started coming in into the front of the restaurants instead of in the back, in front of the buses instead of the back. I digress, gentlemen, because my father and myself, when I came to the United States and I grew up in a segregated community. We're going to leave it with my dad getting a beer and wine license?

Joe: Yeah. I guess we can. We're coming up on three o'clock.

Chris: You're coming on three o'clock.

Joe: I mean, we can keep going if you want, or we can call it if you want.

Chris: Yeah, just for a few minutes.

Joe: Coming off that a little bit, you're talking about the Black community some down Nellies Cave, you're saying?

Chris: We had three Black communities in Nellies Cave Road behind the fire station where, on Progress Street, there was another community. Where Wendy's restaurant is now, there was another community there, that's three. Then down on 34:00the river called the--I'll think about it in a minute--Wake Forest. That was four that I knew of. Also, gentlemen, we had the Black school in Christiansburg Institute as you go in Christiansburg on the right-hand side.

Joe: Because we're before integration.

Chris: Yeah. Horrible.

Joe: What about the Greeks? Is there a Greek community in Blacksburg or is it mostly back in Salem and Roanoke?

Chris: My father was the only Greek ethnic in Blacksburg at that time. There were a few Greeks in Christiansburg, a couple in Radford and some in Pulaski that came in about the same time my dad did, early turn of the century. Don't forget, right after the Civil War in 1890 and 1900s, we needed people to turn our industrial machine. We needed immigrants. We didn't have enough people to work. You follow me? That's where all these Irish men, Italians, the Greeks came, the Englishmen.

Joe: Yeah. It sounds like your dad came in in that wave of immigration.

Chris: In that wave of immigration. Exactly, Joe.

Joe: But now this period of time when he's developing these restaurants--

Chris: Restaurant.

Joe: Restaurant. [Laughter]

Chris: One.

Joe: Changing names. Immigration policy is changing.

Chris: Oh, my goodness. Do we want to go there?

Joe: No, we don't have to go there yet, but eventually we'll get to your coming over and that's an entirely different time.

Chris: Oh, yeah, absolutely. But we can touch on that, and then we'll--

Joe: Oh, you want to go there now or--?

Chris: For a few minutes.

Joe: Okay.

Chris: Then we can finish.

Joe: In that case then, when does your father return to Greece?

Chris: My father had a good friend in Welch, West Virginia. His name was George 35:00Sagris, S-A-G-R-I-S. They were good friends and good drinking buddies, quote unquote. They call each other up, they're forty-something years old, let's go to Greece and get married, marry someone of our culture, our religion, some people that we can identify with. There was nothing wrong with American girls, obviously. That's what he's told me, I don't know. They decided to go to Greece together on a boat, the Queen Elizabeth.

Joe: Now had he been back at all?

Chris: He hadn't been back.

Joe: This is the first time?

Chris: This is the first time, to get married. They stop by Paris and pick up, I think each picked up several cases of French cognac for their wedding back to Greece. [Laughter]

Joe: Very optimistic. [Laughter]


Chris: Very optimistic. [Laughter] I love that, very optimistic. They land in Athens, Piraeus. They go up to the villages where they were from. They go to the village where my mother was from, about five to six hours away from my dad's village, but the same province. Montgomery County, okay? Here are the Lolo widows of the village, Amerikanoí are coming. Americans are coming looking for a bride. Back then it was very common, whether you are an American or whatever -- "matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match", the movie. What was it? The Fiddler On The Roof.

Joe: Fiddler On The Roof.

Chris: Beautiful movie. Well, my grandmother heard about these guys coming in and all of a sudden she had three daughters. My mother, the oldest, and another middle one, and Alexandra the youngest one. Obviously the two younger ones were too young. My mother was eighteen, almost nineteen. My father was forty-two. He liked what he saw in my mother. My mother liked him, but didn't like his age. He 37:00was too old. Says, I'm not going to marry this guy, he's too old for me. According to my mother, my grandmother, her mother, took my mother into the barn where they kept the cows and the chickens, and said, you're gonna marry this guy, you're gonna go to America, and you're gonna be okay. Obviously, she didn't say, we're all gonna be okay, 'cause she was a widow. She was a war widow who had lost her husband.

Joe: In World War I?

Chris: Right after World War I, before World War II starts.

Joe: Okay.

Chris: I was born. Mary's mother leaves mother there in 1937 to come to America to do the necessary paperwork for mother to come over here. He leaves mother pregnant with me, and I was born in 1938, an American citizen, 'cause my father 38:00was a naturalized American citizen.

Joe: And a Greek citizen.

Chris: I was born there an American citizen. I was born a Greek citizen because I was born in Greece. Under old ancient Athenian law, I was an Athenian citizen. I have three citizenships. That's where we're going to leave it, because after the war was over is when mother and I came over because the blockades--the World War II starts. As a child, I remember the bombs falling. I remember the bad people coming into our buildings, burning our houses, raping the land, raping women. Of course, I didn't know that was happening at that age. It was not a good time in Greece. 1941, I was four years old, three years old. There were almost half a million Greeks who died of starvation because the Germans and the Italians raped everything they had. When they saw a village, they burned. Whatever they couldn't eat, they'd burned. Whatever livestock they couldn't eat, 39:00they just destroyed.

Joe: Your experience of it was, sometimes the bad people would come?

Chris: The bad people were the Axis powers. So we can talk about my time in World War II as a child at the next interview.

Joe: Yeah. That sounds like it could be very rich.

Chris: Well, I don't know about, rich. But can we have a cutoff now?

Joe: Yeah, sure. Thanks so much.

[End of interview]