NEWTOWN SQAURE, PA – Louis J. Vastardis, 97, of Newtown Square, a renowned builder of Philadelphia area restaurants and revered member of the local Greek community, passed away peacefully on January 12, surrounded by his family.
Vastardis came from humble beginnings in the village of Syneti on the Greek island of Andros. Many men in this seafaring nation earned a living as sailors, as was the case with Mr. Vastardis’ father. While they were away for extended periods of time, wives and children tended to their small patches of land, harvesting as much as they could to help feed the families.
When Vastardis was only 13, his mother passed away, and it was suddenly left to him and his sister to take care of the household. To manage this, he had to drop out of school and take odd jobs to help support the family. His mother had come from the island of Paros, and he was very proud to honor her heritage by later becoming known and respected as “Pargianos” (the man from Paros). He wanted to become a sailor like his father, but his father told him he had to learn a trade first. So he started work as a carpenter’s apprentice, and soon developed skills in building furniture and cabinetry.
At the outbreak of World War II Greece was occupied by German forces. Seeing the oppression everywhere, Vastardis and some friends decided to flee in a small motor boat, finally arriving on the coast of Turkey. There they came in contact with officials from the British Consulate and volunteered for service. They were then transported via Syria and Palestine to a military training camp in Gaza.
After basic training, Vastardis was assigned to the Royal Air Force to serve with the aircraft maintenance crews. He was then deployed to serve in the North Africa campaign, including the battles of Tobruk and El Alamein. Towards the end of the war, he was part of the landing forces in southern Italy, before Greece was liberated and Germany fell.
Following his discharge from military service after the end of the war, Vastardis was finally able to realize his dream of becoming a sailor. He sailed as a deck hand and helmsman mainly in the Mediterranean and Gulf region, and then later joined his father on North Atlantic sailings to the United States. Encouraged by his father to pursue his dreams in America, he stepped ashore from the ship in Newport News, Virginia one day in 1947 and was granted a short term visa. Starting a new life practically empty handed would prove challenging. He joined his uncle in Reading, PA and helped him paint farm houses and later office buildings in Philadelphia. There he met the love of his life and was married to Goldie in 1948. This was to be the beginning of a beautiful partnership which lasted more than 50 years.
Vastardis continued to work paint jobs in order to support his young family, working 6-7 long days a week in sometimes precarious locations, such as bridges, high tension towers, and even the iconic sign atop the PSFS building. When he had earned enough, he purchased a small dilapidated house which he restored himself, once again using the carpentry skills he had learned as a youth. After a while he was able to buy a second house which he again restored for his family to live in, supplemented by rental income from the first house.
This was to be the beginning of his life’s legacy. Guided by the basic tenets of hard work and modest living, he was able to earn a living with carpentry work and set aside some money to make real estate investments. Later on he would form a partnership with a friend and went into the construction business. Eventually he formed his own company, Vastardis Construction, and went on to build over 100 restaurants and diners in the Greater Philadelphia/South Jersey area, including such local landmarks as Ponzio’s in Cherry Hill, the former Olga’s Diner in Marlton, and Fisher’s Tudor House in Bensalem. He added a second company, Hercules Cabinet Company, which provided much of the custom interiors.
As a mostly self-taught man, he gained a reputation for the highest quality craftsmanship as well as for his fairness and personal integrity. In fact, many of his clients became so prosperous as a result of the work he had done for them that he became known as “Golden Hands” in the restaurant business.
His marriage to Goldie was a partnership built on faith and true old world family values like hard work and sacrifice, love and respect, pride and integrity, kindness and generosity.
They started out together with almost no worldly belongings, and worked tirelessly to sustain themselves and slowly improve their quality of life. Along the way, they continued to live modestly while building a good home and a solid life foundation for their children. This selfless attitude also extended far into their circle of friends and relatives, where they on many occasions extended a helping hand whenever it was needed. Vastardis was both a giving and a forgiving man, and rarely asked for debts to be repaid.
When his wife passed, Vastardis made many donations in her honor. This included restoration work and new church bells at the Greek Orthodox church where they worshipped, as well as establishing scholarships at the Hellenic University and local trade schools.
Vastardis lived a truly remarkable life. For the benefit of his children and grandchildren, he penned his life story in a book called The Struggle of My Life. In it he describes how sacrifice, hard work, patience, and love brought him and his family a better life.
The devoted and loving husband of the late Goldie (née Stamis), he is survived by children John (Mary), Celeste (Axel), and Nicholas (Theresa), grandchildren Christina, Louis, Eric, Kristin, Alexis, and Gregory, and three great-grandchildren.
Relatives and friends attended his viewing and funeral service at St. Luke Greek Orthodox Church, 35 N Malin Road in Broomall, and interment at Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery in Springfield.