Transcript Index
Search This Transcript
Go X

Chris Kappas: Are we doing pretty good with this thing so far?

Joe Forte: Yeah.

Chris: Are you all happy with that?

Joe: I just listened through our last session a couple of days ago. I'm trying to remember where we left it off. I think we said that we would start to dig more deeply next time into your taking over and the changes you made in the business, the development of the business and businesses under your care. But there's a bunch of holes we left, too, in the narrative before.

Chris: Oh I'm sure.

Joe: About what you did right after school, a little bit more about your experience in school. Maybe some things back in the old country, too, that we haven't finished with. I mean, we covered it a lot, but I think there's always more to press even though you were young back then.

Chris: Well, going back to the old country, Greece, as we've said, I left at nine years old. After the war, from the villages, mother and I spent most of our 1:00time in Athens with people that were new relatives. We stayed in a hotel type of thing, we didn't want to overburden any of the cousins or aunts because Athens was getting crowded then. Actually waiting for my father to send the necessary funds, tickets to come to the United States.

Joe: Had you been to Athens before that?

Chris: Yeah from about 19-- we stayed up in the villages.

Joe: Yeah, but before you went to Athens because you knew you were getting ready to move to America, had you ever been to Athens?

Chris: Yes, on and off for medical reasons, one thing or another, mother would send me. But mostly, I remembered after being there, after four or five years old, then when I was much younger. But Athens right after the war from 1945 to 2:001948, [19]49, before the Civil War started, was very vibrant. Eighty percent up--well maybe not 80 percent--a lot of the population moved to Athens because it was an agricultural country. There was nothing to--Athens was growing when we went there waiting for my dad to send the necessary funds to come over here. We overstayed in Athens. I probably shouldn't say this, but my father trusted a distant relative of his to take care of us, quote unquote, to see that we needed anything, whatever. It turns out that this distant relative took financial 3:00advantage of my dad. We found out this much later on, where my dad thought we would come over immediately, but the excuse was, yeah, we're getting ready to send your wife over and Chris, there's been a delay here and a delay there with waiting for the necessary papers. Unfortunately, the gentleman fraudulently took advantage of my dad. You gotta take into consideration the history of the country, the poverty involved. I don't know how many children he had, but definitely took advantage of my dad, and it took a while to get here. When we finally got passage, Joe, my father had under, maybe those days, first-class passage for us. Well, we wound up in the bottom of the ship under cargo. We were 4:00literally in a banana boat. Mother, the whole trip, I think it was close to three weeks. It was an Italian merchant ship, was completely bedridden because of seasickness. Of course, I, being so young, I was running around, I'm trying to enjoy myself, whatever. But that gap there hurt my father very much. Then, of course, my mother was so innocent, she didn't realize what's going on until we got here. The stay in Athens was three or four years, I remember quite vividly, the vibrancy of the city, the war being over. Of course, they had the other headache of a possible civil war. It was then under the Kingdom of Greece, King 5:00Paul and Queen Frederica. I remember as a child, my mother dressing me up in the national costume of whatever the national costume was back then of the kingdom.

Joe: Do you remember what it was?

Chris: The costume?

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: I have a picture of it somewhere, if I can find it. Oh my goodness gracious! [Laughter] My high school friends made fun of me [Laughter].

Joe: I could imagine. [Laughter]

Chris: Short pants, a little protruded stomach, and a hat. Oh Lord, it was very amusing. They took a picture to send to my dad. But it was not a bad situation in Athens then. It was not a bad situation. We would occasionally go back up to the villages where my grandmother was and her two daughters, my two aunts. But 6:00when we left in 1948, the civil war was getting pretty tough. As I mentioned earlier, both my aunts were taken under by the Greek communist guerrillas. Mostly the young girls or the young boys back in those days, they would ship them up north to other communist countries. And it was called in Greek a certain word, but it's rounding up the children to be indoctrinated into the communist doctrine. As I mentioned before, the Truman Plan and the Marshall Plan helped liberate Greece from being taken over by the communist guerrillas. It was a stroke of genius as far as George Marshall goes and Harry Truman. You may not agree with some of the decisions that Harry Truman made back in those days, but 7:00he made decisions, right or wrong.

Joe: The buck stopped there.

Chris: The buck stops. [Laughter].

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Actually, reading David McCullough's biography of Harry Truman, he won a Pulitzer Prize on that, the historian. And actually, it's not a Harry Truman saying that, but he did have it on his desk "the buck stops here". It was a gambling--Harry loved to gamble. As he gambled with his friends, they would pass a deer knife, a buck knife around as to who's turn it was to bet, the buck stops here, okay, your turn, or something similar like that. And I found that to be interesting. I've always enjoyed that quote as I got older and going into business, that you do have to make a decision whether you believe is right or it's wrong. It's sometimes important in your life. You got to make decisions. Anyway.


Joe: Yeah, keeps you moving.

Chris: I'm sorry?

Joe: Keeps you moving.

Chris: Absolutely.

Joe: The experience of the civil war, was that greater or different in any way in the city than it was in the villages?

Chris: Yes It was a horror story. It was son against father, father against son, brother against brother. Of course, the Greek Orthodox church was under tremendous attack. They would kill the local priest, or they would kill the local village mayor or whatever. They would go into-- my future mother-in-law, my future in-laws that got all caught in there, they would go into their houses, wanting to know who the spouse were for the national army. They would put a 9:00knife on your throat and said, if you don't tell us what's going on, we're going to just decapitate you. We were in the United States then. We had very tough time communicating. Well, my dad did, and my mother, to see where her sisters were. We knew they were abducted. Anna, who came later on to the United States--well, both of them later on came to the United States--would tell a horror story of how she escaped. Even today, some of the Greeks have a hard time forgetting that period in their life.

Joe: It sounds like your family, and folks that you knew and knew personally, felt oppressed, put on by, threatened by the communists. Were there others that you knew who took the side of the communists?

Chris: Absolutely, even cousins that took sides with the communist movement. I'm 10:00not sure whether even the Greek communist guerrillas knew exactly what they were fighting for. But I think at that time, King Constantine and Frederica had just come back. I think they had gone, exiled to Egypt, I'm not sure, and came back and left, they may have left again. I don't recall my history on that. But it was not a good time.

Joe: I'm also curious about the relative whom you describe as having taken advantage of your father. The nature of that agreement, was he being paid by your father to host you, and he extended that stay?

Chris: He was being taken care of by father, to take care of us, but not to the 11:00point where he would delay our trip two to three years, and then give us tickets that were baggage.

Joe: You're saying he delayed because it was lucrative for him?

Chris: Yeah, it was lucrative for him. Absolutely. He took advantage of my father who was here and we were there. You have to understand one thing about my father and my mother: complete trust. How much can you trust somebody even if he was a distant relative? He wasn't a first cousin, but he was a distant relative from the same village that my dad was from. How much trust can you give somebody without being taken advantage of? And I think my dad, his concern was us. He 12:00didn't know about all this till we got here. He didn't know about the delay.

Joe: Is that a quality that you remember in him, as being extraordinarily trustful of folks? Was it a personal philosophy of his, that he would trust people to make them trustworthy or give them the benefit of doubt?

Chris: He carried his philosophy here in the United States at Blacksburg when he first opened up his restaurants in a way that I remember growing up. Alumni would come in and say, Mr. Nick, thank you so much for not having me pay for my food, you helped me here and you helped me there. He carried that onto his customers here, that if he saw a student that just was having a hard time, particularly the GIs they came back after the war because on the GI Bill. They 13:00were limited as far as income, even though they were on the GI Bill. But I wish I'd have kept all the cards and letters that he'd gotten over the years, how grateful the students were. I may have mentioned before, I said, Dad, Baba in Greek, I understand you come to Blacksburg, but why did you stay? He said, I loved the students. The students loved him. It was a reciprocal thing. Henry Decker's class, I believe was 1943, one of the best alumni here. He passed away about four or five years ago, I think. You all may have heard of Henry Decker, I don't know. He would come to one of our restaurants when, and I think it was his class that gave my father a class ring.


Joe: Really? [19]43 or something like that.

Chris: I still have it. Now, they did it under the table 'cause they didn't want anyone to know, 'cause they erased it. But I still have that ring.

Joe: That's great.

Chris: It's something else. A Greek immigrant to come to the United States, not knowing the language, not a formal education. He was not dumb. To be thought so highly from a class of Virginia Tech to give my dad a class ring.

Joe: That's a great story.

Chris: I just get emotional thinking about it. He had never forgotten that. But I believe the Henry Decker's class was 1943, but you may want to look that up. I just don't recall. He was very trustworthy. He was well liked.

Joe: The relative who took advantage of him, was his reaction to finding out about this one of understanding, forgiveness, outrage? Do you remember?


Chris: Do you know, Joe, that we never confronted him?

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: But he always knew that we knew. I think the last trip that I was there, his wife sort of avoided me and my wife. He was getting a little senile. But over before that, I think they knew that we knew what was going on. And why bring it up?

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: What good is it going to do?

Joe: Right.

Chris: He was an educated man, a learned man. He took advantage of my dad. What are you going to get back? Let somebody else judge him.

Joe: Did he, though, feel that the circumstances were such that I guess he 16:00needed the money and come to some peace with it by himself or--?

Chris: My father?

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Oh, yeah.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: He accepted it. In Greek, we say, Ti állo na káno [Τι άλλο να κάνω], what else was I going to do? What else was I gonna do?

Joe: He had his family with him now. So, you got there.

Chris: Of course, my father was, never said no to my mother about anything that she wanted. We keep saying in Greek, the historic know that the Prime Minister Metaxas said to the Italian ambassador about getting permission to talk about Greece. No, you're not coming in. Well, my father was that way to my mother. He felt the world of her. There were twenty-some years in difference. When she got here, she left Greece physically, but mentally, she never left Greece. She 17:00learned to learn English, never learned to drive. But her heart and her mind was still at the old village or back in the old days in Athens. Because of that, my father brought over her sisters and her mother, and later on, a lot of families came because of my dad, because of his sponsorship. Back in those days, you have to have a sponsor to come here, other than a relative.

Joe: When you came over, he talked about--you're expecting first-class or your father hadn't paid for first-class but--

Chris: Well, first-class was different back then. [Laughter]

Joe: [Laughter] Whatever that meant back then.

Chris: Whatever that meant. Yeah, definitely was not first class.


Joe: The guy bought lesser tickets, and your mother was sick the whole time, but you said that you spent your time running around exploring the boat.

Chris: A lot of people probably took me under their wing a little bit.

Joe: Do you remember much of that? Were there other children, or who did interact with?

Chris: There were other children. All I remember basically just running around, somebody taking me by my hand and leading to this or going to eat, because in our little cafeteria down on the bottom. There was hardly anybody up on the upper decks, particularly in cafeterias of some sort and everything else. I remember mother being so sick that I would go up to eat and I would bring her oranges or fruit because that's what she requested. But she was in sick bay. Well, she stayed sick. It was a very rocky, I remember just tremendous waves, 19:00just rocking the boat back and forth. It was April, so right after winter, but the Atlantic was not forgiving. I remember that boat was going like this. It was incredible.

Joe: Were you yourself sick at all?

Chris: No, not that I recall.

Joe: Interesting.

Chris: It didn't bother me. Well, you're still young. Maybe I was playing games with it. I don't know. But there were a lot of people that did not go well with them, and it just took forever!

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: It just took forever.

Joe: Well, with your mother being sick and you seem to have a lot of freedom to roam the boat and it seems to be a small, contained community in which you placed your trust. Was this probably the greatest independence from your mother that you'd experienced, or had you been independent for a while, in terms of just, go do your thing?

Chris: I'm not sure I get the gist of your question. I experienced some 20:00independence there when Mother was sick, but I knew she was there.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: She always hovered over me a little bit. I was an only child.

Joe: And she couldn't do that now on the boat, right?

Chris: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. She was a disciplinarian, she was not domineering, she was a disciplinarian. My father never raised a hand to hurt me, where sparing the rod and spoiling the child was not in my mother's vocabulary. She was strict with me. But as I got older, we got along well. But it was okay 21:00growing up in Blacksburg.

Joe: We talked to some about that last time. We talked about how you felt arriving, what you did as a child growing up in Blacksburg, and the Little and the Big Theater and the mowing grass, all that stuff.

Chris: I forgot about that.

Joe: We know that you go to [Virginia] Tech eventually. What's behind that decision? Was it--?

Chris: But before we would go to that, I want to finish something with my dad too--

Joe: Oh yeah, sure.

Chris: Is that, after we got here--again, knowing that my aunts were well and whatever, my father and my mother in particular never stopped giving aid to her relatives in the village or anybody that she knew. She was a godmother to a lot of children, always sending money and clothes, particularly clothes. In high 22:00school, I would go to the post office with just packages full of clothes to send to Greece. From that point of view that my father at times, we may have mentioned, it was maybe the second Truman Doctrine to my mother's people and hence some of his people too, but particularly my mother side of the family. He really took care of everybody.

Joe: Would she organize drives to collect clothing to send over?

Chris: We didn't do that.

Joe: Where did it come from?

Chris: Mother would buy them.

Joe: Oh, really? So she bought new things and--

Chris: Oh yeah, she would buy them. There were no hand-me-downs from where. I mean, we didn't know that many people we lived above the old Greek's restaurant, above Harley Shoe Shop. But then when we moved a couple of blocks up to Sunset Boulevard. Still, a lot of the times it was a store. My first trip to Greece 23:00after high school, my first trip to Greece, I remember getting on the train in Cambria to go to New York to get a ship to Greece. I had--what do you call those trunks at the end of the bed? What do you call those?

Joe: Foot locker?

Chris: Yeah. This big and this wide, full of clothes. I think I took two or three of those trunks with me, checked them into the train station at Cambria, Christiansburg, the Pocahontas. It was called the Pocahontas. I had to change in Washington, so we had to make arrangements for that bulker to go straight to New York City for me to pick them up. I really don't know how I did it out of New York, whether I had some help, I don't recall.

Joe: You must have.


Chris: I must have had some help, because, from the train, I took them straight down to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, wherever the ship was. It was in 1958 or 1959, I believe. When we landed in Greece, we went on a bus to go to my mother's village. I think the whole village must have been distributed clothes.

Joe: I imagine so.

Chris: That was incredible. I just don't remember how I did it. There has to be somebody up in there and I'm sure there was somebody up in New York helping me. I just don't recall that far ahead.

Joe: You mean someone your father had arranged? A conductor or something like that?

Chris: Yeah.

Joe: Clothing only or other things?

Chris: Clothing. No other things would've survived. When I did that trip, that was a two week trip.

Joe: Yeah. Nothing perishable.

Chris: But my father did a lot and never stopped. Again, he's never said no to 25:00my mother.

Joe: Is the restaurant doing so well that you all are comfortable and able to do this, or are you going without so that he can help?

Chris: The restaurant is doing well to support one family. But mother had other ideas. When the oldest sister came over after the civil war, she got engaged with a gentleman and had to marry in Virginia. My dad brought him into the restaurant. His name was Jim Havelos.

Joe: Yeah, you mentioned it.

Chris: He became a partner with my dad. But before that, there were other people also involved in my dad's restaurant, other than family. I came into the restaurant business after I went to school at [Virginia] Tech. I didn't know 26:00what I wanted to do. I thought I would be a little more independent. I went to Richmond. I had a job there working with Virginia Electric Power Company called VEPCO back in those days. I left my father with Jim, partners, and after a while, I realized my dad was getting up in age. And Jim wanted to do things with the restaurant, and he was nice enough to say, if you want to come on in, that's fine, take your dad's place, all that good stuff. That's how I came into the business.

Joe: When you went to Richmond, did you think you were leaving the restaurant behind, or did you know that you would come back someday? Did you think you were embarking on a career that would take you in an entirely other direction?

Chris: I'm glad you brought that up. I had a phone call one night from my mother, and ethnic mothers have a way, especially if you're an only child, to make you feel guilty. I think her concern was, what are we going to do without 27:00you? You need to come back, and all that other stuff. I didn't particularly like my job in Richmond, either. I saw the handwriting on the wall, I wasn't going to be there long.

Joe: What were you doing at the power company?

Chris: I was accounting. I don't remember. Payroll? I don't remember what it was.

Joe: Was that your degree, business?

Chris: I'm sorry?

Joe: Your degree was business?

Chris: Yeah, I studied accounting at [Virginia] Tech, and then I also--for a time, I went to the National Business College in Roanoke. I learned more at the National Business College and in my dad's restaurant than I did anywhere else, just practical knowledge in business. But I did come back to Blacksburg and with Jim. That's when, over a period of time, we decided that we had to remodel the 28:00restaurant, we had to do something. That's when we went from the Blue Ribbon Restaurant, we changed it to the Greek's, what everybody else was calling it in the community.

Joe: When you came back in.

Chris: When we came back. Not that I was that instrumental. Jim had a lot of ideas, too, of what to do. I was much younger.

Joe: Out of high school, was it a given that you would go to Virginia Tech, or were you looking other places?

Chris: No other place. Initially, I made a mistake by enrolling in the Corps of Cadets.

Joe: Right, you've talked a little bit about that.

Chris: My mother liked uniforms, she wanted me to go in. Then she wanted me to study engineering. By the time Christmas arrived, I realized that the engineers were doing very well without me. But the Corps of Cadets, I was a day student, I had to live in the dorms. It was difficult for me going back and forth, trying 29:00to be in the Corps or whatever.

Joe: One year you spent in the Corps?

Chris: I spent a year in the Corps and then I dropped out. But it was a good experience.

Joe: Yeah, I bet.

Chris: Some of my friends went all the way through, went in the Army, Air Force, whatever. When Dr. Hahn in 1962 decided to make it a comprehensive university and de-emphasize the Corps, there were a lot of alumni that were in the Corps that were upset. Henry Decker was one of them. But I can go back forever on that, but the decisions have to be made.

Joe: What year did you graduate?

Chris: I was supposed to have been out of there in [19]62, [19]63, but I took my time. Who knows? It was forever.

Joe: You stayed in touch with friends who went all the way through the Corps and into the service?

Chris: Oh, yes.

Joe: They got out, they're in the [19]60s in the service, so now we're heading into Vietnam.

Chris: Probably, maybe back in those eighth, maybe three or four quarters of 30:00getting a degree from [Virginia] Tech. The only degree I have is from the National Business College, an Associate Degree. But I got involved in business pretty good. One thing I must say about that experience with me, is that I stressed to both my children how important education is. My daughter went to Radford and she wanted to do a Master's at American. My son studied biology at Virginia Tech and I told him, you almost have to go to graduate school or medical school, and he decided to go to graduate school at University of North Carolina. But both Maria, my wife, and I felt that we didn't push education. We 31:00didn't push them to the situation where they were stressful. This is what you're going to have to get ahead in life, it is to get a good education. I will remember when my son defended for his PhD in microbiology at Chapel Hill, there was, I don't know, maybe two or three hundred people in there as you will see when you defend yours. The underclassmen, graduate students, and professors on this committee there, and he finished his dissertation, his presentation, by showing a picture of me and my wife up there and saying that, if it weren't for my parents, I wouldn't be here today, stressing education. My lack of accomplishments in academia, I wanted my children to progress more than I did. 32:00What's a better way of putting it? Have I digressed here a little bit?

Joe: No, that's great. [Laughter] You've referenced often the notion of the American Dream, that your father lived it, that you are living it.

Chris: It's a misused term now. I think we throw it around like a football or basketball in America.

Joe: Perhaps, but the component of that is the sense that each subsequent generation should do better than the previous. Is that something you and your family held?

Chris: Yes. He had the opportunity to come here, but once he got here, it was up to him what he did with that. I was amazed at the old restaurant that he had before all the partners came and whatever, how much the Black community thought 33:00of my dad. He must have had fifteen or eighteen people from the Black community working for him, even though they weren't allowed to eat in the front of the restaurant. We grew up in a segregated South here.

Joe: Sure.

Chris: But just growing up, the amount of respect from the Black community was tremendous. I was most impressed with that, as I was with the alumni coming back as former students. But he treated people equally.

Joe: This is the South during Jim Crow, right?

Chris: Oh my goodness!

Joe: Is there any backlash that he's experiencing as a result of his relationship with his Black employees, the Black community?

Chris: Never. I don't remember any backlash at all. I just remember that we had 34:00mentioned this with the Black barber shop on College Avenue when the Civil Rights Movement started and they wanted to make an effort to recognize themselves. They came into the restaurant one night and they said, Mr. Nick, we're going to come in for lunch tomorrow and we're going to sit up front, do you mind? They asked permission from my dad and from what he told me, he said, of course, I don't mind, you're welcome to sit wherever you want to sit.

Joe: This is in the [19]60s?

Chris: [19]50s, late [19]50s. [19]50s, [19]60s, somewhere in there, because I graduated. Yeah. I grew up in a white elementary school in Blacksburg High School. Our only Blacks, they had their own school in Christiansburg Institute in Christiansburg at the bottom of the hill there as you go down. When I'd go 35:00out and play on Progress Street or behind the fire station, played with my Black friends. Things have changed. My son, growing up in a different era, a situation, he'd always talk about, in grade school, about Steffen, what a great guy he is. Who's your best friend? Steffen, and so on. Steffen Williams or whatever his name was. I finally met Steffen's parents. I finally met Steffen: a little Black boy. Never did my son ever mention race. That's how much we've progressed.

Joe: That it wasn't relevant, yeah.

Chris: It wasn't relevant to him. I didn't say anything to him. They were good 36:00friends. I don't know what happened with Jim Crow. That happened way before I got here. You would have thought the Civil War would have solved some problems, but I'm not sure what it solved. [Laughter] We're not gonna get there?

Joe: Yeah, I guess the historians--the jury's still out on that, maybe.

Chris: Absolutely. But that's the story of my dad. He treated people equally. Everybody. Because he sold alcohol, I think maybe there was a negative to some of the people in the community. But other than that, he had a good relationship with everybody.

Joe: When you came back from Richmond and were partnering with Jim Havelos, your 37:00father's partner, what's the way in which your father is, I guess he's somehow transitioning out of control of the business? Is he retiring at this point?

Chris: Yeah, he was gonna probably hand over all the reigns to his former partner had I not came in.

Joe: How old was he?

Chris: Who, Jim?

Joe: No, your father at the time.

Chris: My father? Who knew? Seventy-eight maybe? Closer to eighty? He died ninety-eight years old.

Joe: So, he lived twenty-four years.

Chris: But he saw the handwriting on the wall. He was not eased out or anything like that. Even though Jim and him probably had personality problems. I was much younger, and I had to learn a lot from the restaurant business. It's just what I 38:00remembered helping out once in a while. But Jim showed me a lot of stuff that I didn't know, that I wasn't aware of. Initially I would always work out front, and then slowly, I worked back in the kitchen. And Jim's wife, Anna, my aunt, she was sort of the front person of the restaurant, and she did a lot for the restaurant. She had a tremendous personality where she attracted a lot of people in there. Very attractive lady. She really worked hard, and Jim. There were some difficulties for both families. Then when we decided to do the Greek Cellar, to 39:00exercise our on-premise license, we had to remodel the basement, and we had to find someone to manage it and to run it. Then Jim says, Chris, what do you think? I have a brother in Winston-Salem, and his wife, and he was a maitre'd there working with somebody else in the restaurant business. What do you think about asking Sam and Dina to manage the restaurant for us because upstairs, downstairs, it's going to be difficult. He was correct. I said, absolutely. They worked up till their retirement, and they did a tremendous job. Sam would be the upfront guy managing the bar in the front, and his wife Dina would be in the kitchen. Best lasagna and best pizza I've ever had in my life. Back in those 40:00days, nobody knew what pizza was. But that was, again, part of the family. So we have extensions here.

Joe: Yeah. What was the structure like? I mean, I don't imagine that you were incorporated, but you're all kind of owners--?

Chris: Initially, it was a partnership, but then we did incorporate. We had Greek's Restaurant, Incorporated.

Joe: Then you drew salaries individually?

Chris: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. And then another extension was later on in 1971. We had an opportunity to extend the Cellar-type of restaurant and go in the basement where now Sycamore Deli is.

Joe: Yeah, you mentioned that location.

Chris: And we didn't want to hurt Sam or Dina in opening up an exact restaurant like the Cellar. We decided to do an upscale restaurant, which was way ahead of our time. We called it the Mediterranean.


Joe: Down in that Sycamore basement, is the upscale--

Chris: Exactly. We had Harold Hill, who's in the Architecture Department, God rest his soul, he's gone now. But anyway, Harold designed the restaurant for us, Mediterranean style, Greek columns, Corinthian columns. I mean, it was just incredible. Again, who do we get to run the restaurant?

Joe: Somebody had to marry somebody.

Chris: So, we had to find a manager. So I knew, and Jim knew, and Anna knew a couple in Christiansburg: Mary and John Dritselis. They owned a little restaurant, a place called the Palace Restaurant, the Palace Cafe. They were doing a minimal amount of business. They were young. Again, I don't recall whose idea that was. It may have been mine, it may have been Jim's, it may have been Anna's. But anyway, we all decided, let's ask Mary and John Dritselis to see if they would run the restaurant, and they did from 1970, [19]71 to about 1980. 42:00Being an upscale restaurant, the only business that we had that was promising was probably Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night. John was a wonderful cook. He's still with us, by the way. He's living in Richmond now. They managed the restaurant for us. But we found that after a year or two, that we just needed to change it, that people were not coming downtown for prime rib and oysters and salmon, things like that. We were really ahead of our time. So we changed it basically to another Cellar we called the Greek's Two.

Joe: How long was that there?


Chris: About ten years.

Joe: Till what year?

Chris: About 1980 something.

Joe: Is that when it became, what, the Lantern or something? Or Pedro's?

Chris: No, it was still Greek's Two. I opened up Souvlaki in 1980, [19]82. Mary and John decided to do their own thing and open up a place called Cricketts, if I remember correctly.

Joe: In that downstairs location, or something else?

Chris: They left the downstairs location. In the meantime, my first cousin, Anna and Jim's son, George Havelos, we felt he was old enough to run Greek's Two. Then John and Mary did their own thing with Cricketts which is located or was located on Main Street where old Sharkeys was, not at the corner but the next building but--

Joe: Yeah, the corner was Arnold's, and Sharkey's was--

Chris: Cricketts was there for about a couple of years. Mary and John had some kind of a personal problem. I don't remember what it was. They closed the 44:00restaurant. In the meantime, we stayed open with Greek's Two with George.

Joe: And Greek's Two is where now?

Chris: Where Sycamore Deli is.

Joe: Still down there.

Chris: Still down there, 'cause John and Mary left. So we put George there, Jim's son, to run it.

Joe: Exactly.

Chris: That didn't last long because George was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. We were faced with a decision of what we're gonna do with Greek's Two. Jim and Anna were devastated. Their son was paralyzed in a wheelchair. We decided to liquidate that. We sold that.

Joe: You owned the building?

Chris: We did not own the building. It was owned by HCMF. I believe they're still in business now. They still own the building where Souvlaki is presently.


Joe: They still own that building?

Chris: They still own that building, but I think under a different name.

Joe: Okay.

Chris: I'm not sure.

Joe: But you guys owned the building the Cellar is in?

Chris: We owned the Cellar building. The new owner of The Cellar Restaurant has 50 percent of the building, and I own 50 percent of the building. My aunt Anna sold her half to Kevin Long, the owner of the restaurant.

Joe: Gotcha. When I got to town in fall of 1987, that Sycamore location was a Mexican restaurant called Pedro's. That came right after you?

Chris: That was sold, that was redone. In the meantime, we sold Greek's Two. Maybe it was Pedro's. I don't remember who sold Greek's Two. We had to do something. Then the tragedy of it is that George, three or four years later, passed away from a blood clot. It was a devastating injury that he had. But 46:00anyway-- boy, you're making me bring back memories.

Joe: I know, tough stories.

Chris: That was not very good.

Joe: I'm interested in your father at this time. You said he died at the age of ninety-eight, but he retired sometime in his seventies, so for twenty years, he's still in town?

Chris: Yeah. He was our guy at the cash register at the old Greek's. He was doing all the cash register stuff.

Joe: And does he ever word in your ear about how you're running it, or was he just leaving that to you?

Chris: He'd come in around eleven o'clock, work the cash register and leave around one or two o'clock in the afternoon, and maybe come back in the evening.

Joe: Generally leaving the running of it to you?

Chris: Yes, with Jim and Anna, of course, absolutely, and Sam and Dina in the basement.

Joe: Right.

Chris: Absolutely.

Joe: We had talked previously about another Greek's in the parking lot behind 47:00The Cellar.

Chris: That was before George's death, and before John and Mary Dritselis left. I decided that maybe an ethnic restaurant or a shish kebab cart would do well in Blacksburg. I mentioned to Jim that, growing up in New York, I see a lot of vendors out on the street selling shish kebabs, hot dogs, espressos, whatever, and I said, maybe selling Greek shish kebabs on College Avenue might work. I said, and then maybe get George involved too because he's young and all that stuff. That's what happened, I got George involved, and Souvlaki brought the cart down in 1980, and then John and Mary left Greek's Two. We put George in there and then the accident, so I had to sell Greek's Two. In the meantime, George was laid up in a wheelchair and he was my partner at Souvlaki. Initially, 48:00I had the cart from 1980 to 1982 where I went into next to Books, Strings, and Things with Souvlaki and stayed there till, I don't remember, 1990 something, went over to where Little Doc's is, where Souvlaki is now. You came in 1987?

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: When did you work at Souvlaki?

Joe: Probably [19]89 or [19]90.

Chris: Okay. Then I moved into Little Doc's before that.

Joe: Yeah, you were there.

Chris: Yeah, I was there. That was another thing that we had to go through, to introduce people to ethnic food in Blacksburg in Southwest Virginia.

Joe: Yeah, we talked a lot about that last time. You named it Souvlaki because it's the one thing you were serving in the pushcart, correct? The pushcart was named Souvlaki?

Chris: No. In Greek, souvlaki is generic for shish kebab.


Joe: Right.

Chris: Souvla, meaning skew.

Joe: That's what you were serving at the cart?

Chris: That's what I was serving out of the cart. I think I was just serving pork tenderloin, just pork only. When I moved indoors, I had chicken and pork.

Joe: You added chicken when you moved indoors, and you added the gyro at the same time?

Chris: Yeah, I added the other stuff, absolutely.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Absolutely, the gyro--now it's gyros, of course. It was a hard sale, but anyway, it worked out. But it was difficult for me at times and for the family, that I was involved in trying to sell Greek's Two, trying to get Souvlaki started. George felt that he wanted to do something different. He decided with another partner to go behind the Cellar, and we get into a family situation 50:00here, to do another Greek's restaurant.

Joe: Because this isn't anything your partner is in.

Chris: In the meantime, the Cellar had closed up for about a few months.

Joe: Yeah, the downstairs part.

Chris: The downstairs, till a new owner came in, and they called that another Greek's, but then George died and then the other partner left, closed the restaurant up. A Greek tragedy to-- it's hard to describe what we went through that time. Between George being incapacitated, George's death, liquidating the restaurants, it brought a financial and emotional toll, particularly on me and on Jim and Anna also. With George's death, Jim followed him about two or three 51:00years later with his death. And Anna, right now, suffered a stroke about a year or so ago, and she's in a nursing facility, and I see her often. We went through a lot since 1921.

Joe: Yeah, indeed.

Chris: I didn't mean to get into our family discussion here.

Joe: No, no worries.

Chris: I don't know how much you can retain this or go into this.

Joe: As you're opening the pushcart and liquidating and going through all this, are you married at this time?

Chris: Oh, yes.

Joe: You talked about meeting your wife in New York. When did that happen?

Chris: I met my wife in June of 1971 in Charlotte, North Carolina. They were visiting their friends, family, whatever, and we were there at the same time. 52:00Anyway, somebody introduces us. I met her in June and I married her in December of 1971. Going to New York and seeing all the vendors gave us an idea, maybe something like this might work in Blacksburg.

Joe: Yeah, that's right. You mentioned that.

Chris: I mentioned so many things, I'm going to repeat myself! [Laughter]

Joe: We're moving circularly. Something else you talked about with regard to the move to ethnic cuisine, starting to serve Greek food, is difficulty finding suppliers and distributors for some of the things.

Chris: When I first opened up Souvlaki?

Joe: Yeah. Then that led to cultivating relationships with folks in Chicago, correct? Let's talk a little bit about that.

Chris: Well, I knew that the distributors who were in Chicago. They were called Kronos Incorporate. They did the gyros and the pita bread, they did spanakopita, 53:00they did all that stuff. But I could not get a food distributor to buy it from them to sell it to me, because they had never heard of pita wraps or gyros or pita bread or anything like that. Of course, the spanakopita, the shish kebabs, I could make. But the gyros, I just couldn't possibly do that. I would order the gyro out of Chicago and I would pay the freight, whatever, and finally there was a Greek grocery store maybe in Charlotte that had pita and gyros, that I would drive to Charlotte and pick that up. The local people out of Roanoke wouldn't even talk to me about it. They said, we don't know anything about that, it's not gonna sell. Finally, the Kronos people found the distributor out of--

Joe: I think it was in Lexington you said.

Chris: Lexington, Virginia. Thank you for reminding me. Wonderful people. They 54:00handled the pita bread for me and other things, sub rolls and whatever later on.

Joe: Did that remain, or did you ever get it coming through Roanoke or closer?

Chris: After a while, yeah. All the people in Roanoke had it. Even when I left, we bought stuff out of Roanoke.

Joe: Does Kronos still supply Souvlaki?

Chris: Yeah absolutely, they're still in business. But after they sought of got to know me and they invited me up to McCormick Place--I think it's called in Chicago, huge for a restaurant convention. Chicago has a large Greek town, so my wife and I, it was very nice. We spent about five or six days up there, they hosted us. And now I don't know what Mike, the new owner, does, but we start out with maybe five cases of pita bread or five cases of gyro a month. Now we do fifteen, twenty cases of pita a week.


Joe: Yeah. I can imagine the pitas that go through that place.

Chris: I told you, basically we sold it on our toothpick. People would leave and we'll just--

Joe: Catch them at the door.

Chris: Yeah. It was a tough sell. What do you think? You want to continue?

Joe: It's up to you.

Chris: It's three o'clock, I have a four o'clock appointment, maybe do some work at the office maybe for a few minutes, but we'll continue for a few more minutes if you want.

Joe: Where would you like to go to now?

Chris: I'm not sure.

Joe: We've talked a lot about what's happening with the restaurants and the structure of it, your partners, and decisions about food, and a little bit about your father at the register and was it your partner's wife?

Chris: Anna.

Joe: Anna.


Chris: She was the face of the business basically and Jim was sort of behind the scenes a lot. He was thought of a lot by the customers, but Anna and I were upfront. To them--

Joe: You were also a face of the business.

Chris: Oh, yeah.

Joe: Talk a little bit, if you would, about your experience engaging the patrons, the Blacksburg community, as this restaurateur.

Chris: Well, I guess I got a lot of the stuff from my dad. I'm a people person. We would just engage the customers as they walked in. They would know us. We knew them by name. We knew what they wanted. Being friendly. It was just part of our ethnic thing that we felt that personality and in particular Anna also giving that personality to the restaurant. It was just not a restaurant. We're people there that ran this thing, that cared about the customer and try to give 57:00us the best food and the best service possible. I'm not taking anything away from franchises, but we still have mom-and-pop stores that do that. We interacted very much with the customer. We just felt that that was the way to do it.

Joe: To what degree was that your idea of what was good business, or was it something you just enjoyed or a combination of the two?

Chris: Did I enjoy the restaurant business?

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah, I enjoyed it. It was-- as you know, it's very difficult, and at one time, we had three operations going on practically, and maybe with Souvlaki, four. It's a very demanding business. You're almost married to it. It's hard work. I've washed dishes, I've washed pans, I've mopped floors, I've cleaned out 58:00grease traps, sewer lines. If you're not there to do it, who's going to do it at four o'clock in the morning if the sewer's stopped up, if your help does not come in? There was always something. I may have mentioned it before, the restaurant business is like a spaghetti strainer of a business.

Joe: I was just going to say that, when I was working with you, you said this to me once, and I was wondering if there's something you remember or said often, is that you said that the restaurant business is like a sieve, like a strainer. You're never going to plug all the holes, but you spend all your time trying to plug as many as you can.

Chris: Plugging holes! The margin of the restaurant business is not tremendous, but if it's not going out the front door, it's going out the back door. If it's not going out the back door, it's going into the trash can. If it's not going in the trash can, it's going down the beer drain. You have to watch everything. You 59:00have to watch your salesmen. Your salesman comes in and says, oh, so and so chicken is so much pound this year or this week, or pork is so much. Then you say, okay, I'll take five cases of that. The order comes in four days later, it's not what he quoted me. It may be five or six or ten cents or a dollar more than he quoted, and I have to check that out. You've got to check that order in.

Joe: Was that common?

Chris: Oh, no.

Joe: Do you think intentional, or--?

Chris: No.

Joe: Okay. What about downtown rent?

Chris: We'll go to that in a minute. You mentioned about was that dishonesty, very uncommon. But going back to when we had the Cellar, I was in the back door one day. A truck driver comes in and goes into the walk-in cooler, says, you got five kegs of Schlitz and five kegs of this, whatever. How many do you want? When 60:00we first opened up the Cellar, we had Schlitz White regular beer, Schlitz Dark beer, one tap, Budweiser, and Michelob, maybe four taps.

Joe: You had Schlitz Dark?

Chris: Schlitz Dark, great beer.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Schlitz was out of Roanoke, and the Budweiser was out of Radford-- Yeah, I think it was Radford. No, Pulaski! I'm sorry, Budweiser was out of Pulaski. Great people, wonderful people. Edens Distributing Company and Porterville Distributing Company in Roanoke. I used to smoke back in those days. I'm back there smoking a cigarette, and here comes the distributor for Schlitz. The truck driver goes in, I watch him take the kegs out of the truck. As he's taking the kegs out of the truck, the keg has a cover on top, where you tap the keg, it has 61:00a cover on it. He was taking the cover and throwing it into the truck. I didn't pay any attention until after maybe about a month or two of this. I said, why is he throwing that cover from the tap into the truck? Schlitz back in those days was ten or twelve dollars a keg. Old Milwaukee was five or six dollars a keg.

Joe: I see where you're going.

Chris: That bothered me. I picked it up, and I went back to Jim, and I said, Jim, what does this say? This says Old Milwaukee. I said, he's leaving us Old Milwaukee instead of Schlitz. That bothered me a lot.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: I'm not gonna mention names. I called up the distributor, said so and so. 62:00Says, no, it couldn't be. I said, yeah, it is. I said, I'm writing a letter to the ABC Board. He says, no you're not! I said, I'm writing a letter to the ABC Board. They came up immediately and took care of the situation. I never had to write the letter.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: They were apologetic. I don't know if it was the truck driver, I don't know if it was the owner, but that doesn't make any difference. But again, you're plugging up holes, you're trying to make a profit, you're trying to support your family, you're trying to pay rent, food costs. I don't know what food costs now. My food costs as if it was 28 percent. I think the national food costs now in general restaurants is 35, 38 percent. You can look that up, I don't know. I still get trade magazines from the restaurant association, that 63:00the first year of business in the restaurants, the failure is about almost 90 percent.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Very high. Joe, never get into the restaurant business.

Joe: Okay. [Laughter]

Chris: Okay?

Joe: Well, you did pretty well, though.

Chris: I'm sorry?

Joe: You seem like your places have done pretty well.

Chris: Yeah. We paid attention. We were there.

Joe: That's what it takes.

Chris: Again, at the old Greek's, we had Jim, Anna, and myself, and Dad retiring. At the Greek's Cellar, we had Sam and Dina, tremendous work ethic. John and Mary Dritselis, tremendous work ethic at Greek's Two or Mediterranean. You gotta be there.

Joe: What was downtown like? I'm trying to get around to how much of a hardship downtown rent was. Was it a premium back then, or was it not really?

Chris: It wasn't that bad till about early [19]80s. Then downtown evolved a 64:00little bit. Some of the landlords are hardcore.

Joe: Do you think that came in with more liquor licenses and the realization that there was a very profitable business to be had here?

Chris: Yeah, yeah. Being a landlord now, I find that you should make it good for your tenant so he can make a living, and good for yourself, that you can make a living off the rent. Don't gouge somebody. Some landlords are pretty hard. That's the way they operate. That's fine. Shopping center rent is called triple net. You ever heard of a triple net that the shopping center charges? A triple net rent when you go to a shopping center is your rent, you pay a part of their insurance and part of their real estate taxes, which, depending on the space, it 65:00can be a burdensome on the business.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: All right.

Joe: Want to call it?

Chris: Yeah.

Joe: All right.

Chris: Did we have a good time today?

Joe: Absolutely. Did you?

Chris: Yes. But I may want to edit some of this stuff. [Laughter] I want to continue this a little more. This is a reflection from Chris Kappas.

Joe: Correct.

Chris: Jim Havelos is not here.

Joe: Absolutely.

Chris: George Havelos is not here. My aunt is not here. John and Mary Dritselis are not here. Sam and Dina Havelos are not here. So Joe, you're relying a lot on my memories of what I think happened.

Joe: Correct.

Chris: I don't want anybody to listen to this audio and misconstrue anything about how bad I was treated or how good I was treated or whatever. This is my opinion.


Joe: Absolutely.

Chris: This is what I think happened. I want that on the record.

[End of interview]