NEW YORK – The sign’s message is simple: “42nd Street Restaurant – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner – Pizza.” It’s all a person needs to know. The store has been there since 1937 and the person who has owned it since 1980 is happy.
The story of 73 year-old Louis (Elias) Gritsipis, who came to America from Kandila, Greece, a man who is pleased with what his Greek-American dream has provided him and his family so far and is not ready to cash on of Manhattan West Side development millions, caught the attention of the New York Times this week.
The humble building, wrote the Times, four-stories high with white stucco exteriors and a Hellenic blue trim, “stands stubbornly at the western end of 42nd Street.”
“Values, principles and dignity count much more than money and silver. That is something that the people who think they can buy everything have difficulty understanding,” Gritsipis told The National Herald.
As Gritsipis told The Times, which joined the area’s development boom a few years ago with its gleaming new skyscraper headquarters, “The big buildings, they destroy the neighborhood.”
He bought his restaurants 4-story home in 1980 for $150,000.
Long before anyone across the Atlantic heard of Astoria, the West Side of Manhattan north and south of Times Square was New York’s Greektown, as TNH’s readers know from Kiki Sembos’ “Greek-American Stories.”
Gritsipis’ establishment is one of its last remaining outposts .
He told the Times that he had a chance to sell the building for $10 million in 1980 when the J.D. Carlisle Development Corporation was planning a luxury apartment tower next door – Carlisle said they offered $7 million.
At any rate, Gritsipis entered into negotiations with them but he “was skeptical during negotiations in a Midtown office. He demanded that a $480,000 tax be paid by the developer,” according to the Times.
Even noted Greek-American architect Costas Kondylis, a countryman and contemporary, tried to persuade him to sell. But Kondylis, whose buildings tower over many parts of the island of Manhattan, was sympathetic, and noted that the developers did not bother to offer Gritsipis an apartment in their building so that that his family – which lives above the restaurant – could stay in the neighborhood they love.
Gritsipis told TNH “Costas Kondylis is a friend of mine and he played the matchmaker. They picked me up at the restaurant in a limousine and went to offices in Manhattan where there were many lawyers and secretaries.”
He was obviously anxious about the whole affair. “They wanted me to sign the contract and we had a special agreement about the corporate taxes. They wanted to grab my land but I did not sign.”
“I told them I needed to go to the bathroom. I took my jacket, and they are still waiting for me,” he said.
He ran all the way back to the diner, he told the Times.
Born in 1940 in Kandila, where he was also raised, he made his first trip to the United States when he was 18 and worked in Houston, TX, but he returned to Greece to perform his military service as a cook in the Hellenic Navy.
In 1964 he came to America again and worked in restaurants. After a time, he opened his own place and named it Kandila. He eventually established a small chain of restaurants, enabling him to offer employment to hundreds of Greek immigrants.
When he bought the building on 42nd Street, the neighborhood was very dangerous. It was infested with drug addicts, and the store was robbed more than 30 times.
“Over the past 20 years the area changed dramatically, he said.
“This building is not an insignificant thing for me. It’s my whole life. This is where I have worked and lived for three decades. No matter how much money they offer me I will not sell it,” he insisted.
He and his wife, Raquel, who is from Argentina, have a son, Andreas, and he also has a daughter, Anna, from his first marriage. Andreas and his granddaughter, Athena, learned Greek at the Cathedral School and the latter is now a student at the high school of St. Demetrios in Astoria.
Gritsipis told TNH that both schools are excellent and values their contribution to Greek education.