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Joe Forte: Today is December 6th, Thursday.

Chris Kappas: The day of Saint Nicholas.

Joe: Day of Saint Nicholas. It's 3:00 PM. We're in the Newman Library in the University Libraries at Virginia Tech. My name is Joe Forte and I'll be interviewing the narrator of this oral history, Chris Kappas. This is probably the final in a long series of interviews we've been sitting down with Chris.

Chris: [Laughter] And if not the final, maybe one more time with my wife, maybe.

Joe: Maybe. That would be nice.

Chris: That would be nice, so she could deny everything.

Joe: [Laughter] So she can offer a counter-narrative. We've talked a lot about the history of your family in Blacksburg, how your father came to town and opened up what would become the Cellar and how that led to Souvlaki and other restaurant enterprises. You ran Souvlaki and the Cellar for a while after your 1:00father left the business. I'd like, if you think we can get some good stories out of it, I'd like to talk about a little bit more recent experience. We talked about your experience, when you were young and coming of age and coming into the business, that family living in Blacksburg, but I'd like to also know what it was like for you and your wife and your children, raising a family in Blacksburg, running a now mature and established business in Blacksburg and just life in town. You told us that yesterday, you gave a lecture on the Virginia Tech campus, to a class about starting a small business?

Chris: I did. It was a class of juniors and seniors. They were studying how to start a new business. I think the class was called entrepreneurship, if I'm pronouncing that correct. Basically there was a professor who wanted some input 2:00on how to start a new business venture that was never done before. And if it was done before, how would they start a new business? It was very interesting really. I was honored and humbled to speak to the class. I'm not sure how I was. I haven't gotten any input from the professor yet. But the other students seem to enjoy it.

Joe: What did you tell them? What was the perspective you brought to it? Because in one sense, you stepped into a very established business, but you also did something new and different.

Chris: Exactly, that's what we stressed in the class. How do you start something that's so new and get it going? Basically, I went over some things that we've talked about before, Joe. When I first got married, I married a Greek girl from 3:00New York City, and up in the city, there were a lot of vendors out on the sidewalk. One of the businesses was selling shish kebab and Greek. My wife and I talked about bringing a shish kebab cart or an outdoor grill to Blacksburg and put it on College Avenue, especially during good weather, and see how it would work. Then, of course, over a period of time, that materialized into the restaurant itself, Souvlaki. I got married in 1971, December the 12th, the day that will live in infamy, to a wonderful person. She's been with me for forty-seven years now. Without her help, I don't think Souvlaki would have materialized at all. I owe everything to my lovely wife Maria who stood behind me and encouraged me that it would work and it would not disappear, and that was 4:00very helpful. She did a lot for the business originally when we went indoors, when we left the cart business. Although the cart was done for special festive occasions, outdoor festivals, whatever, Steppin' Out. Going indoors, Maria really did most, 80, 90 percent of the Greek cooking: homemade spanakopita, homemade tiropita, of course the baklava, different other Greek desserts. It was very unique to Blacksburg. And in the same time, the children came and had to divide a lot of my time--not of my time. My wife had to devote a lot of time, almost 100 percent of her time, to raising the children. It wasn't that I was an 5:00absentee father, I did the best that I could, but liquidating a couple of the old businesses took some of my time and death in the family and my first cousin, liquidating that business that he was running. It was a little tough back in those days, and starting your business, Souvlaki. As I mentioned before, people didn't know what this ethnic food was all about. Basically, like I told the class yesterday, I basically sold it on a toothpick because people were leaving. They were not familiar with what I had. They didn't see pizza, they didn't see lasagna, they didn't see spaghetti, they didn't see a hamburger or hotdogs. It was all quite foreign to them. I would start grabbing them by the hand. I said, before you leave here, get them a toothpick. I would give them a sample of what I had on the grill and that sort of got their attention, and it tasted very good 6:00to them.

Joe: When you're speaking to a class and saying how to start a small business, something new, something that hasn't been around. When you look back at starting Souvlaki, does it seem like a series of errors and you're figuring it out as you go kind of thing, and are you then conveying the lessons you learned from that, or did you go in with a strategy that you tried to follow?

Chris: Well, certainly it was a series of errors because I didn't know initially for a year or a year and a half, that's how long it took, whether the business was going to be successful or not. Sure, if your door doesn't open, you begin to wonder what you're gonna do. Initially, I befriended a good friend named Jim Littl[efield]--I forgot his name, a professor in marketing. He was head of marketing, and he helped me. He brought an MBA class to make a study on how I 7:00should market Souvlaki, and that helped a lot.

Joe: And you took their advice? They came up with some good ideas?

Chris: They came up with tremendous ideas. For instance, I went on radio advertising. I didn't know till I got on radio what a morning drive was and what an evening drive was. I had no clue. The radio vernacular, it's people who drive in the morning to work and people who drive in the afternoon back home.

Joe: Peak listening time.

Chris: They turn on the radio, listening time! Again, the students helped with that, and we geared our advertisement morning hours and afternoon hours, not late evening hours. It was very expensive. But I figured it was the cost of doing business and that was part of it. It was very helpful.


Joe: Well, if you look back at the whole arc of the businesses from your father and his partner and then you coming in and then Souvlaki, would you say that that push on the radio represents a new level of marketing?

Chris: Absolutely. That push on the radio helped me see things that I didn't see before, where the old advertisement that we had with the family was the word of mouth and established over a period of years and people patronized us.

Joe: No advertising at all.

Chris: No advertising at all. My goodness gracious. We didn't know what advertising was. We thought that was a waste of money. It can be a waste of money if you don't target the right people at the right time from what I understood. One of the guys that helped me along with advertising was Richard Walters who owned Books, Strings, and Things. And he was really big into advertising.

Joe: Yeah, I remember those commercials.

Chris: Of course, we were across the street from each other, and he'd come over and help me write my ad, whatever. Of course, the local radio people would help 9:00too with that.

Joe: He wrote his own copy and he helped you write a copy.

Chris: He helped me write a copy. He would help me a little bit. But I learned on my own that advertising done effectively is effective. But that was new to me. The other part was that I had to be away from the family, especially the children, for a period of time because I had to devote as much time to the business as possible, because I felt that, without me, it wouldn't work. As the children were growing, they went out for sports, track and basketball, both of them. I would miss most of the practices, not that I was invited. Sometimes during good weather, soccer practice was around three or four o'clock in the afternoon. I would get in my car and go up to the high school and overlook the 10:00practice. Of course, my son didn't like that because he says I'm the only parent that came to soccer practice. I felt that he felt it was a little bit too much for a parent, but I stayed out of the way.

Joe: You felt like you weren't putting in enough time. He felt like you were smothering. [Laughter]

Chris: But when it came to home games, I would try to make it. But away games, it was a little difficult. My wife Maria did most of the away games. I think if I have any regrets, I didn't spend as much time with my children as I should have, but at the same time, I've spent more time with my children than my father ever spent with me. I never saw my father except on Sundays when he wasn't working.

Joe: You have two children?

Chris: I have two children. They are eighteen months apart, Vicki and Nicki. If they misbehaved outside of the house or something, you go outside and call one name and they both came running. [Laughter] There was no problem getting their attention.


Joe: Did they work in Souvlaki?

Chris: I'm sorry?

Joe: Did they work in either of the restaurants?

Chris: Yeah, when they were young, they did. Vicki helped a little bit. Nick was a tremendous help. By the time he got to be a sophomore or a junior in high school, he helped me out with Souvlaki a lot, especially during Steppin' Out. I think by the time he graduated high school and became a freshman at [Virginia] Tech, I think he could probably run Souvlaki by himself without me. Sometimes when he was there, he'd shoo me out of there. But at the same time, Joe, I'll be truthful with you, I knew my daughter was not going to be in the restaurant business even though she married somebody in the restaurant business. But I sort of stressed education to my children, get as much education as possible. My daughter got a bachelor's at Radford University, she got a master's at American University in Washington. My son got a bachelor's in biology here at Virginia Tech. And then he didn't want to go to medical school. He wanted to be getting 12:00the aspect of the business part of medicine. He got his PhD at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I'm proud of the fact that education has proven to be a very positive effect on their lives, because they're using it. It's not going to waste. Even now they're married and have children, but still, their education is of prime importance.

Joe: Now, you characterized your move into the business, and correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that it wasn't assumed that you were going to take over the business, and you sought other paths, but then you did feel somewhat compelled to come back to help. Is that correct?

Chris: I did. After school, I left and went to Richmond for about a year. But anyway, I came back, I was the only child, and ethnic families have a way of making you feel guilty if you don't come back to the family in a way. I don't 13:00have any regrets at all. It was difficult to work with some of the family because they were older, I was a little younger, I had different ideas, whatever. But it worked out well.

Joe: Were you reacting to that experience at all with your children? It sounds like you're saying that you intentionally and specifically set them on a path where they wouldn't take over the business. Is that what you meant?

Chris: I didn't want them to be in this business because of the grueling hours, and because it would take away from family because having gone through it personally with my father and spending the time, especially after I opened up Souvlaki, spending a lot of time. I just saw an opportunity for both of them, that they didn't have to be in this business, if you understand. It's not that I 14:00pushed them out intentionally, but I knew my daughter obviously was gonna get married one day, probably, either staying locally or leave, but especially in my son, I didn't want him to be involved that much. But if I saw that he was not doing well academically or had an interest in the restaurant, I would probably advise him to stay even though he didn't like the restaurant that much. But I just saw an enlightened person in Nick and in Vicki that they followed the rest of their life.

Joe: So your hope for them was that they had choices?

Chris: Absolutely. Matter of fact, when my daughter met her future husband, he came down all the way from--have we talked about the story? They were dating for 15:00about five or six months, and he came down, although I had met him before, of course. And he came, calls me up on the phone and says, Mr. Kappas, this is so and so up and over in Hanover, Pennsylvania. And I said, who? He says, I'd like to come down and talk to you. I said, sure, son, what's it all about? He says, well, I will not talk on the phone, I would appreciate very much if you don't say anything to Mrs. Kappas that I'm coming down.

Joe: Are you saying you had no idea who this was? [Laughter]

Chris: I had an inkling. I said, what does this guy want? I met him a couple of times. Vicki invited him down to football games and all things I know.

Joe: But you knew he was associated with your daughter?

Chris: I certainly knew that they were serious. I was not in the dark, obviously. He comes down on a heck of a rainy day, drives six hours, whatever it was, non-stop rain. Downtown, I should have lunch with this guy. Where am I gonna go? I'm not gonna go to the Cellar, I'm not gonna go to Souvlaki, so we go over to the Farmhouse and have lunch at the Farmhouse. He's a golfer, so we talk 16:00about golf. He was a Buckeye fan from Ohio. Originally he was born in Ohio, so he was a Buckeye fan, so we talk about the Ohio State football team. Obviously, we talk about Hokie athletics. We're sitting there at the Farmhouse for two and a half hours, and I said, George, son. I said, listen, you've come down a long way. I said, why are we here? I like golf, you like athletics, but why are we here? [Laughter] I hope he's listening to this. [Laughter] He says, Mr. Kappas. He says, I'm in love with your daughter and I'd like to have your permission to marry her. So, we sort of stared at each other. And I said, oh, wow. I said, how does Vicki feel about you, George? He says, well I hope she feels the same way, 17:00I feel that she does. I said, that's wonderful. Then, Joe, it just rolled out of my mouth, and I've told several people this, I said, can you provide for my daughter? If she wants to work, I want her to be a decision that is not necessary for her to work. Can you provide for her? He looked at me and says, absolutely, I can provide for her. You do not have to worry about that. Of course now George, my son-in-law, brings that up to me all the time and throws it to my face. [Laughter]

Joe: What year was that?

Chris: Let's see, they've been married fourteen, fifteen years now? They have a ten-year-old. Yeah, about thirteen, fourteen years ago, something like that.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Maybe fifteen years ago when they did, I don't know.

Joe: It's a nice story.

Chris: I'm sure that date is written somewhere, and my wife will forgive me for not remembering, but Hotel Roanoke always remembers about the date because I 18:00still get a Christmas card from them, thanking me for the reception for around four-hundred-some people [Laughter].

Joe: Ah the Kappas wedding.

Chris: Greek weddings! We talk about Greek weddings. You've got to do two things before you leave this earth. You've gotta get invited to a Greek wedding or go see the Greek Isles. You gotta see the Greek Isles.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: But anyway, that was when my daughter got married, and then on the other side of that, Nick went to graduate school at the University of North Carolina. That's where he met his future wife. They were dating almost six years before he gave her a ring, I think after they graduated. It turned out they were in different labs, but she turned out to be a great lady. We just enjoy her very much. I remember at Nick's rehearsal dinner in Charleston--they got married in 19:00Charleston--and everybody came from California, some classmates, whatever, and [Laughter] everybody gave a toast. Then, the last person who gave a toast was Nick's mother-in-law. She got up and said, I know you people have come in a long distance to be here, California, New York, wherever you're from, but the longest person to get here is Nick Kappas. It took him six and a half years to give my daughter a ring. [Laughter] It just cracked up everybody.

Joe: Yeah. That's a good line. [Laughter]

Chris: It was cute. They got married in Charleston in a Greek Orthodox Church and it was wonderful, it was great.

Joe: Did your children attend Virginia Tech as an undergrad, either of them?

Chris: Nick went to Virginia Tech. My daughter went to Radford.

Joe: Okay. They both stayed kind of close?


Chris: They stayed kind of close. Nick interviewed William and Mary, and the University of Virginia, and I think Virginia Tech, but he narrowed it down. He just wasn't sure. He decided to stay close. But graduate school was something else. He thought about graduate school at Virginia Tech, but his advisor at Virginia Tech says, if you're doing biology, we don't recommend your masters. You go straight through your PhD, and we'd love for you to stay here, but you need to go somewhere else and get another perspective. He applied to about eight or ten different graduate schools, Columbia, Georgetown, several, NYU, I don't remember. He got accepted to all of them and decided Chapel Hill was the place to go. If you've never been to Chapel Hill, I advise you to go. It's a beautiful town, great university, great academics.

Joe: What was that like for you then, with your kids going off to college but not really going off?


Chris: Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up, because that was the first time. Because they both left for graduate school on the same day. One went to Washington, D.C., and the other one to North Carolina. I think my wife went with one of them, I don't remember if she went with Vicky or Nick, and I was left all alone in Blacksburg for the first time with the children not being around. I just didn't know. Really, I got emotional.

Joe: Yeah, sure.

Chris: I think that hit both my wife and I that we're becoming empty nesters. That hits hard. It doesn't hit as hard as after they're married, you know, that's a finality.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: But that's what it's all about, that you teach your children to be independent and away from you and make it on their own.

Joe: When the nest was empty, were you still actively running the business?

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Oh gosh, yeah. Very active.


Joe: Did your wife come back to it more?

Chris: A little bit. Of course, she would help out during ball games and stuff like that, but she was very active. As the years went on, you realize you have to make a move, and you look at retirement.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: But I knew that the Cellar Restaurant was in good hands, a former employee. I was wondering how it was going to happen with Souvlaki. I've had people that were interested in it. But I wanted somebody that had an emotional attachment to it. And that's where Mike Buchanan came in, the new owner, and he worked for me at Souvlaki. He was a part time employee for Little Doc's on the corner where Souvlaki is now. When I bought Little Doc's out, he introduced himself.


Joe: Wow. So, Mike was with you from the beginning at that location?

Chris: Exactly. That's why I'm so happy that someone that had an emotional involvement into the business, and he knew what it was all about and we worked that out and it came out great for the both of us.

Joe: Yeah. Mike worked there when I worked there.

Chris: Yeah.

Joe: I knew he had been there longer than I was. But I didn't realize he came with the building.

Chris: He came with the building. Of course, I didn't buy the building, but I bought Doc's business out. That was helpful. Of course, when Mike worked part-time, when you were there, he was working at Virginia Tech, full-time at Virginia Tech, working part-time at Souvlaki. He'd come in and say, when are you gonna sell me this place? I'm interested. Come on Mike, you don't have the money, blah blah blah . One thing led to another. I presume that during the discussion, instead of kidding about it, we got serious about it. We sat down 24:00with legal people and Maria and his wife, and we worked it out. So now he owns Souvlaki, 100 percent.

Joe: It really started out just kidding around and then developed--?

Chris: Yeah. He would say, when are you gonna sell me this place? I say, get outta here!

Joe: Now, if you hadn't had someone like Mike saying, when are you gonna sell me the place, and you had someone who trusted, someone you knew was gonna take it over, would you just continue to run it, just in more absentee fashion?

Chris: I probably would continue to run it the way I did.

Joe: You wouldn't have retired?

Chris: I would not have retired. Not then, but after a while. I keep thinking about, I would've marketed the business such a way where people would know it was for sale and that I was serious.

Joe: Okay.

Chris: Sometimes you market the business in a way because you want to get out, it's maybe not doing well. Nobody wants to acquire businesses going downhill. 25:00You want to acquire an ongoing business, a blue chipper. But it worked out. I was lucky, and like I said before, Mike came around, and I sold it before the 2008, 2009 recession which hit the country big time financially. I had a buyer of two things. If not now, when? The children are gone with grandchildren, whatever.

Joe: Yeah. Which was a more difficult transition--?

Chris: Yeah

Joe: The children leaving town, or leaving the business?

Chris: Would you like to question me again? What now? [Laughter]

Joe: Those are two pretty affecting transitions. You talked about your feeling when it was just you left in town, with the children, but then not having the business.

Chris: When the children left, I was alone. I didn't know which way to turn. I 26:00was looking for people to talk to. All my friends were gone. I couldn't find anybody to talk to. When I sold the business and put my John Henry [Hancock] on the contract, it was over with, I went to one of my best buddy's office, John Brown, Brown Insurance Agency. He's retired now, and he still has an office there. I grew up with John, childhood friends, college friends, and all. I went into his office and I said, I just sold Souvlaki to Mike Buchanan. John will remember this, but I teared up.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: But I'm telling you that now.

Joe: Sure.

Chris: It was difficult.

Joe: But then how was retirement?

Chris: How is retirement?

Joe: How is retirement? [Laughter]

Chris: Well, retirement from the restaurant business is a double-edged sword. I 27:00don't miss the work because I worked hard, I was there all the time. I terribly miss my customers because I'm a people person. I had that interaction, as you know when you were there, the interaction with the people. I think I considered my customers my friends, my people. Of course, they were a source of income, but I miss my customers. I do that. As far as retirement goes, I'm not a hundred percent retired from the restaurant business. I have an office in the building where the Cellar is, but in the morning at nine or ten o'clock in the morning, I go down and have coffee at Souvlaki.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: They're not open yet, and I just like to be there, and a couple of my friends will visit with me and have coffee with me. In a way, I'm really not out. Mentally, I'm not. Physically, I'm out. My wife and my children keep saying, Dad, Chris, quit going there, you don't own this business anymore, 28:00you're out of it. And in a way, I want to tell them, yeah, I know I'm out of it. But in a way, I'm still there.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: It keeps me young and vibrant.

Joe: Sure.

Chris: Like I said before, downtown blood runs in my veins, so I enjoy downtown. But thank God I made some sound investment in real estate as I was in the business, and what I haven't sold, I'm managing now, that I own by myself. That keeps me away from home. I have an office, like I said, downtown, so I enjoy going there. That keeps me busy at least once or twice a month in the beginning of the month. If it's not a maintenance thing-- thank God I have good tenants.

Joe: Do you have residential properties?

Chris: I have residential properties above the Cellar there. Beside my office, 29:00there are three rental properties there, another office and three apartments. And then I own the house where I grew up that was deeded to me by my dad way back fifty years ago, the house where I grew up, and then I own some property around that house too, rental property. That keeps me busy, and I'm busy enough to stay out of Maria's hair.

Joe: You manage the properties yourself?

Chris: I manage them myself.

Joe: You didn't handle them over there in one of the companies.

Chris: I was in the real estate business with all the partners, but we've liquidated that, we've sold that. That also kept me busy too. So, I've stayed busy. Anybody contemplating retirement, I would really advise, stay home as much as possible, stay out of the couch, get off the idiot tube TV or whatever, and be active in something, whether it's golf or athletics or volunteerism or 30:00whatever, but stay active for God sakes.

Joe: You say that downtown blood runs in your veins or however you put it. You must feel in some sense that you had a hand in building downtown. Is that so?

Chris: Yeah, I think you're right there. Several years ago, I remember, maybe twenty-five years ago when we still had the Greek's restaurant, I saw the properties behind the Greek's was owned by seven, eight different individuals: the bank, a real estate company, the Town of Blacksburg owned property, all these other little entities that have buildings that were at the back of the Cellar. There were seven or eight different owners. It was a big blank space back there, no parking or anything. So, I called up the Town of Blacksburg--and thank God there was an assistant town manager and his name is Doug Eckel, I'll never forget him--and I said, what if I get all these property owners together 31:00and see if we can do a community parking for downtown? We didn't have any parking. He says, that's a great idea if you can get them together. That's what I did. I was instrumental in having the Progress Street parking lot that involves seven or eight different property owners and the Town of Blacksburg being the majority property owner because they bought the old building behind the Cellar and all this other stuff. The other thing that I was instrumental in is, along with Olivio Ferrari who designed the Cellar underneath the building, the old Greek Cellar, and he gave us an idea of doing a plaza. At that time, they were closing off College Avenue and making that a library plaza. He says, wouldn't it be a great idea if we have the plaza at the Library of Virginia Tech and a plaza at the end of College Avenue where the Greek's is, where the Cellar restaurant is, and redo College Avenue? That was an idea that I brought along to 32:00the Town of Blacksburg with letters and whatever, and as of five or six years ago, we remodeled College Avenue and made it a beautiful pedestrian mall with outdoor restaurants and whatever. I think it's absolutely gorgeous, March, April when it opens up through November, that you have a plethora of people in downtown Blacksburg.

Joe: It is really nice.

Chris: I'm hoping that the same thing that was gonna occur with the new--although I'm not involved--with the new development at the old Blacksburg Middle School, that we were gonna have some kind of pedestrian thing that will unite what they call the new town. Have you read about this? Anyway, that new development, the Blacksburg Middle School, where the Brownstone is and going all the way up to Blacksburg Motor Company, that it will unite both entities together. I feel I was responsible, not for that, but I feel like I was responsible for College Avenue and the Progress Street parking lot. I think I've 33:00been a positive force for downtown. Other than downtown, I have only one influence. When I first built my house up on Apperson Park, it was sitting on top of a hill, and then when we got to finishing the house, going up on the second floor or even my first floor to turn on the water, I had no water pressure. I confronted some of the neighbors of the Apperson Park, and the lower the houses were, the better pressure. but the more houses we had up on the hill there was no pressure. So I get some signatures from all the neighborhood. What year was that? I guess I've been in my house forty years now. I get the signatures from the neighborhood for the Town of Blacksburg to build a water tower up on North Main Street. That's my water tower! [Laughter]

Joe: Yeah, so you could take a shower. Good pressure.


Chris: [Laughter] I addressed the town council and a good couple of my friends, they're all gone now. I addressed the council, I said, ladies and gentlemen, I just built up on Apperson Park, we don't have water pressure, we have a fire up there. We've got a major problem, we need water pressures. My four-year-old son has more water pressure than I do in my house. [Laughter] If you know what I mean by water pressure from my son. [Laughter] Anyway, you may want to edit that out.

Joe: I think so. [Laughter].

Chris: I got a laugh out of the council. I think we've been here long enough where I think I've had some positive influence.

Joe: When you say that staying busy in retirement is important, are you trying to stay effective in the community?

Chris: Not as effective as I like at my age. I learned a long time ago when I 35:00got involved in some parking committees and one thing with, many years ago, people sit on a committee, they just like to postpone things. Being in business all my life, I just like to make decisions. One of my first appointments was by a mayor who wanted to study downtown parking, so he formed a committee. We were seven or eight or ten of us. We got on the committee, and the first thing, there was ad hoc member on the committee from council at this parking committee. The first thing he says, well, we need a subcommittee to study this. [Sighs] I'm looking at a friend of mine, the banker and another businessmen, we're looking at each other. Why do we need a subcommittee to study this committee? We know why we're here! [Laughter] Anyway, to make a long story short, I just don't like to get tangled down in paperwork and red tape.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: I gotta make a decision, right or wrong.


Joe: So, but you are involved in a lot of the social relationships that make up downtown and Blacksburg life. What would you say it's like being a landlord in this town? Like, having residential tenants, managing those properties. It must be an interesting experience because of the college, or do you steer away from college students? How do you run your properties?

Chris: I would like to consider myself a good landlord. If I'm going to have an empty space, I'm not going to have any rental income. So I got to have a tenant, and to have a tenant, I gotta be good to him. I don't want him to take advantage of me. I think it's like sleeping together. You got to get along. From what I understand, the majority of the landlords in Blacksburg are wonderful people and 37:00are willing to work with the university and with the students to make them happy while they're here. I know personally do. I bend over backwards to make them happy. But as far as I know, the tenant-landlord relationship is good. We have some wonderful developers in Blacksburg. I think, at times, they get a bad rap. But at the same time, they're in business to make money.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: I'm sure there are some bad ones out there that take advantage of the students. If you need to, you can drive by around. Like I did yesterday, I drove by and see some of these old dilapidated houses and whatever. You know it's a rental property, come on, man, fix your property up, put some money and make it attractive and make it affordable. Don't take advantage of the students, if that's the case.

Joe: It's somewhat more than just an investment for you. You're saying you take 38:00pride in your properties?

Chris: Absolutely. Because we own the Cellar building, we've revamped those apartments. Obviously, we can't put air conditioning in it because it's an older building, but we have air conditioning units, we put in dishwashers, we put in new cabinets. Every time it's empty, we go in and paint, do anything we need to do. We just finished putting a $30,000 roof on top of the Cellar Restaurant, $30,000. We had some minor leaks, but those minor leaks become major leaks, so you make the investment to improve your building. Kevin, the other half owner of the building, we've made these decision as owners of the building. Even before Kevin came in, the family, we made the same, to maintain it. Otherwise, it doesn't work. You can go now and see certain empty buildings downtown Blacksburg, and they're just unmaintained, and that's why they're empty. We don't want to have a slum landlord image. I don't think we do.


Joe: Yeah, of course not! [Laughter] Let's see. What do you think? You are writing something down over there Slade, was it something that occurred to you?

Slade Lellock: Technical notes.

Joe: [Pause] So. It sounds, then, like it's a positive experience for you, owning properties, renting properties, is that correct? Obviously--what am I getting at here? The keeping busy that you're talking about, is it the hanging around Souvlaki, hanging around the Cellar, seeing your friends, talking, having 40:00coffee, or is there something about managing the properties that makes you feel like you're remaining vital in the community?

Chris: Those are a little different, but both of them are true. They're not related, but my personal stuff, to go into Souvlaki or the Cellar and having coffee or beer with my friends, whatever, that's entirely different. That keeps me busy and occupied. But managing the property is strictly business. Number one, it's my income, my main source of income. You're not gonna make it on social security, guys. It's my main source of income, and if I don't maintain the property right, then I'm not going to get the maximum rent out of it. And maximum rents, I don't mean by ripping off tenants. I mean, what does the market bear for this apartment downtown, whatever. It has this, it has that, it has that. Basically, I have a rent policy with most of my tenants. What can you live with? Let's talk about this. I have a minimum of what I need to make my expenses 41:00or to make my obligations to the bank if it's mortgage or whatever. But I have my minimum of what I expect, to pay my taxes, whatever, man. But let's talk about rent, this is what I would like, can you afford that?

Joe: That's a conversation you have with your tenants?

Chris: Absolutely, all the time. I just had it a couple of days ago at the Cellar building, which is now rented since 2020. Most of the time, I don't even have to mark it for sellability because the present tenants refer me to their friends that are interested in it. We have a very wonderful relationship.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Both Kevin and myself and my property, my whole stuff. I can't imagine ripping off people.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: I just want to make it comfortable for both of us. That's in rents or whether you're buying or selling real estate. To me, a good deal of selling and 42:00buying real estate--both people are happy. The guy that bought it, the guy that's selling it, the guy that bought my business.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: You've got to find a happy thing here. But I think I may be in the minority. I don't know.

Joe: Maybe. You say you see it as more of a partnership, it sounds like you're describing.

Chris: Absolutely. We're sleeping together. I don't want to use that analogy, but we're in this together.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: This is what the rent has been the last couple of years. Can you afford that? My real estate taxes just went up, as you know. The assessments went up in 2019, tremendous. Garbage and water has gone up. I might need to bump at 5 or 10 percent. Can you afford that? We talk about it.

Joe: You discuss what you're facing with your tenant.

Chris: Absolutely. It's an open relationship. But it doesn't mean, because we 43:00have open relationship, that doesn't mean that tenants goes in with keg parties and does stuff against the law and the police come and everything else. I'm not gonna put up with that.

Joe: You ask them to respect it as their home and you respect it as their home.

Chris: I will go after a certain period of time that your rent is due on the 5th or 10th of the month where there is some ten percent fee on top of that. I said, hold on a minute, if you don't get your check from your parents on time, or your employer does not pay you, come and tell me that you have a difficult time this month paying the rent on time and we'll work it out! I'm not gonna charge you that fee.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: But be up front with me.

Joe: Yeah, I can't speak for the whole town, but in my experience with property managers in this town, that does seem unique.

Chris: I'm in the minority? [Laughter]

Slade: I wanna rent from you! [Laughter]


Chris: Well, you can nominate me in the Collegiate Times on the best landlord in Blacksburg.

Joe: Okay.

Chris: Thank you. [Laughter]

Joe: What else do you do?

Chris: Well, I travel a lot now.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Because of the children and grandchildren. My wife keeps us up on Interstate 81 a lot. I can tell you where every mile marker is.

Joe: Is that most of your travel?

Chris: Most of our travel, yeah. Like a year-and-a-half ago, we went to Greece. We haven't gone for a long time. This year, hopefully, we are going to go for a couple of weeks down to Florida and relax a little bit. I think the children might come down if they have some kind of a break. If we're not in Pennsylvania and visiting my daughter and my son-in-law, we're up in Washington, D.C., visiting my son and daughter-in-law and visiting the grandchildren. The nice thing about D.C. is during good weather, I mean, we were on the Mall, we're in the museums. The grandchildren just absolutely love the museums and the Mall. That's a good part. Hopefully this year, we're gonna visit the White House a 45:00little bit.

Joe: Yeah? [Laughter]

Chris: To see the present tenant. [Laughter] Joe, I may have a conflict in about ten minutes here.

Joe: Yeah. Are we running up against it?

Chris: No, we're good! We've got fifteen minutes.

Joe: Okay.

Chris: I would like to have another session, maybe, if you're not tired. I'd like to bring Maria over for a little bit to express her opinion. Then we can wrap up this whole thing.

Joe: That would be great!

Chris: Maybe starting in January or something and we can wrap it up, because you guys are busy during the holidays.

Joe: Yeah. The library is open for a week after finals are over, but then we close for the holidays.

Chris: But we'll be here all month of January, but gone in February.

Joe: Okay.

Chris: Look into your schedules and see what it's like.

Joe: Maybe we'll do something early in January before students come back.

Chris: But having said all that, this endeavor, to me, has been most 46:00educational, informative. I've enjoyed talking to both of you. It's nice to be able to express my feelings in a way that I'm not intimidated-- or I don't think I am, anyway.

Joe: That's good. I'm glad you feel that way and that you're comfortable.

Chris: I've told some of my friends about this, and eventually maybe they'll be able to hear it all through the internet, or you'll do whatever you do--

Joe: Well--

Chris: Something they can click on, whatever.

Joe: If we do one more session, then we'll have something like six or seven, and we will give it all to you and give you an opportunity--

Chris: But you can have your own record?

Joe: Yeah, and then we'll keep it here at Special Collections.

Chris: If somebody wants to hear about the old Greek's restaurant or the Cellar Restaurant, can they go into Special Collections and click onto something like that?

Joe: Yeah, they will be made accessible both digitally--

Chris: Through the internet.

Joe: You could probably do it at Special Collections, but you can certainly do 47:00it in the internet.

Chris: Okay, great!

Joe: Not immediately though.

Chris: No, of course.

Joe: Someone will also transcribe all of these so anyone could come in and have access to the transcripts and just read what we've said.

Chris: Right. Yeah, that's fine. That's good. Because I've told several people, even my former priest, as a matter of fact, I just talked to him. His name is Father Nick.

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: Congratulate him on his name today. [Laughter] I told him I'm on my way down to Virginia Tech library and he wanted to know what I was doing. Anyway, this has been great, guys. I really enjoyed this very much.

Joe: Yeah, we've had a great time too.

Chris: It's been okay?

Joe: Yeah.

Chris: On a final note, I want to say to my son, Happy Ágios Nikólaos day. [Laughs]

Joe: One last question, though.

Chris: Sure!

Joe: Does your son Nick have any children?

Chris: He's got two.

Joe: Did he name one of them Chris? 'Cause you seem to be skipping Nick and Chris--


Chris: Yes, he did. He named the older one Chris. [Laughter] And named the second one, three-year-old, Sophia, 'cause my son always loved the name Sophia, the Greek name Sophia, Sophos, meaning wise. Sophos is masculine. Sophia is feminine. Little Sophia has got everybody wrapped around her little finger. With the exception of Sophia, my son kept up the tradition, and my daughter kept up the tradition. Her firstborn was a girl named, instead of Chris, named her Christine, and her second was named after her husband's father, Peter, after my son-in-law's father. My in-law. We did keep up the tradition.

Joe: But how far back does the tradition go? Your grandfather was Chris, your father was Nick, you are Chris, your son is Nick, and his son is Chris.

Chris: It goes back forever. The more children you have, the further it goes into the generation. You can name it after a great grandmother or a godfather or somebody.


Joe: Yeah.

Chris: So it just depends on how many children you have.

Joe: But it's been the regular Chris-Nick-Chris-Nick series for as far back as you know?

Chris: Yeah. As far as I know.

Joe: Wow.

Chris: The godfather tradition is like in the Roman Catholic Church, where the godfather takes over the spiritual upbringing of the child till the child becomes an adult. As you know, being a Roman Catholic, not the godfather of the Godfather.

Joe: Right. Not the mafia. [Laughter]

Chris: Okay, guys. God bless you all. Thank you so much. [Laughter]

Joe: Thank you. [Laughter]

Chris: I think this was fun today.

Joe: Yeah, yeah.

[End of interview]