HARRISBURG, PA – George N. Gekas, a former Harrisburg restauranteur and founder of the Gazebo Room Salad Dressing & Marinade company in Fairview Township, passed away on April 20 after a brief illness, PennLive reported. Gekas was 88 years old.
He “built the Gazebo Room brand from a recipe he developed for a Greek oil and vinegar dressing used on cold cut subs at the former Ranch restaurant in Harrisburg,” PennLive reported, adding that “today, his sons, Nick and Steven, sell the dressing nationwide through Best Dressed Associates.”
Gekas was born January 10, 1933 in Tzivas, Greece. He was the eldest son of Nicholas George Gekas and Georgia Theodoropoulos Gekas and immigrated to the United States at the age of 17. Upon arriving in Harrisburg, he was employed by his uncles at The Locust Street Cafe during the day and attended night school classes to learn English and to proudly and legally earn his citizenship.
In 1959, he opened The Ranch restaurant where his success enabled him to buy his uncles' business at The Locust in 1971. He expanded their business which led to what became The Gazebo Room Restaurant in 1973. Gekas created the Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing which his family has been manufacturing and distributing coast to coast since 1989.
Gekas, operated the landmark Gazebo Room Restaurant with his wife, Yvonne, for 25 years until it closed on New Year’s Eve, 1998. “The restaurant’s proximity to the Capitol made it a popular stomping grounds for politicians including governors, mayors and legislators,” PennLive reported, adding that “in the early days of the Gazebo Room, Gekas would sell the dressing in empty wine and liquor bottles. Sales grew to between 500 and 600 quarts a month.”
“They would just keep making it and putting it in the whiskey and gin bottles and selling them,” said Kent Chestnut of Lower Paxton Township, a regular customer at the restaurants, told PennLive, adding that Gekas was “a hardworking, industrious individual who was well liked.”
In 1989, the first bottled dressings rolled off the assembly line, and one year later Best Dressed was incorporated. “To the family’s surprise, Tipper Gore, wife of then-Vice President Al Gore, ordered a case of the dressing in 1997,” PennLive reported, noting that “Gore had a taste of the dressing at her friend’s house and wanted to share it with her family.”
“The kids made their father really proud continuing the legacy of the Gazebo Room name. You could tell they were going to be successful. They worked so hard,” said Dimitri Zozos, a friend of the family through Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Camp Hill, PennLive reported.
Gekas’ cousin is former U.S. Rep. George W. Gekas of Dauphin County.
According to Patriot-News, “above and beyond his success in business, Gekas' greatest achievement was the example he set for his family as a loving husband, nurturing father and a man of faith and high moral character. George was the quintessential people person who enjoyed spending time with his customers, neighbors, friends and family of whom he was immensely proud.”
Gekas was also an avid fan of the New York Yankees and enjoyed spending time in his garden and tending to his swimming pool and yard. He also enjoyed attending his grandchildren's high school and collegiate athletic events. Gekas was a member of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral and AHEPA Chapter 64.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years and the love of his life, Yvonne Thomakos Gekas, son Nick and Irene (Mallas), George and Eva of Lewisberry, son Dean and Katrina (Karanicolas), Jenna and Evie of Hunt Valley, MD, and son Steven and Nancy (Katz), William and Alex of York, and many loving in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his sister, Vasiliki Meklis, and brothers, Thomas N. Gekas and Peter N. Gekas.
A viewing was held April 22 at the Neill Funeral Home in Camp Hill. The funeral service took place April 23 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 1000 Yverdon Drive in Camp Hill. Interment followed at East Harrisburg Cemetery.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, charitable donations be made to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral or Hospice of Central PA.