Sandy’s Stories: Family, History, Heritage
If you know me, you know I am fiercely proud of my family and my heritage. You, our customers, have become as much a part of that now as my blood relatives, so I wanted to invite you to get to know us a little better. I’ll be trying my hand at this blog thing once a month, and if you have a story about your experiences with my family, I hope you’ll let me share it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And for those of you who follow my blog, I’ve got a reward for you for listening to my stories…simply answer two questions (whose answers are found in the blog), and you’ll get 15% off your next meal with us (some exclusions apply, but not too many!). For the first one, I’ll make it even easier–if you simply sign up for our email list, just print out your confirmation and bring it in for 15% off (cannot be combined with the first one). We’ll only email you twice a month. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to sign up and show your confirmation to us when you come in (you can print it out or show us on your phone).
Family Started it All
Ok, now that the business is out of the way, I’d like to tell you more about how the Athens Pizza journey began. Those of you who have been coming into Athens Pizza to share great Greek food with me and my parents since 1977 know that family is everything to us. It is the soul of everything we do. What you may not know is that our restaurant’s history goes even deeper than that–we are actually celebrating our 50th anniversary later this year (which, yes, as you guessed—at least I hope you did—is older than me).
My parents, John and Asiemoula, migrated from Greece to Massachusetts with my two older brothers, Diamondis and Romilos, in 1963. My father found work as a tool and die maker at the American Optical Facility on the graveyard shift and worked at a pizza place during the day to make ends meet. After a few years, the owner of the pizza place retired, and my parents seized the opportunity they came to America to find. They used the money they had been working so hard to save and bought his pizza recipe to open their own restaurant.
The first Athens Pizza, named for the Greek city where my parents met and fell in love, opened its doors in August of 1966 in Putnam, a small town in Northeast Connecticut. Dad was 38 and mom was just 30 (a teeny bit younger than I am today!).
Our original location was counter-service only and had just three things on the menu: 10 in. pizzas (you could get various toppings, but the Athens Special was our signature, like it is now), grinders (what people in that part of the country call subs) and spaghetti. We served Coca-Cola products from an old Coke machine and that was it. But the food was delicious and homemade, and the restaurant was the pride of the town. My parents opened up three other locations in New England over the next ten years.
When my oldest brother enrolled in medical school at the University of Athens in Greece in 1976, my parents decide they wanted to go home with him. But at just 48, and after working so hard for so many years, Dad was bored, so we came back to visit New England.
So why am I not writing this blog for New Englanders? Those of you born in the South will understand—weather! We made our visit in February 1977 (I was three years old and pretty damn cute) and found brutally cold weather and snow drifts up to ten feet. Dad’s cousin, Dr. John Michaels, invited us to come visit him in Atlanta—where it was 70 degrees and sunny. As you might imagine, it was no contest. Dad took another chance and decided to reopen his restaurant in the friendlier climate. The doors of our Decatur location opened on July 26, 1977. I guess the hot and muggy summer was still better than those shivering winters up north!
Connecting With My Heritage
I’ve got much more to share about my family and our history, so I hope I didn’t bore you and that you’ll join me next month. I am actually on a trip to Greece right now, relaxing and spending time with my family (try not to be too jealous–it is absolutely beautiful here).
I was born in the U.S., but I will always call Greece home. Why? Besides honoring my parents and grandparents and not losing sight of where I came from, Greece is like no other place in the world. Being Greek isn’t just an ethnicity, it’s a complete state of mind. If you are Greek, regardless of where you are born, when you go there, you feel a sense of home and understand why you are so proud to be Greek. I can’t totally explain it, but I will try to share some more with you about my trip (and my heritage) while I’m here and when I get back. In the meantime, I hope you’ll come by the restaurant and get a taste (literally) of Greece in my mother’s family recipes. Have a great month, and thanks for being part of my family. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!