NEW YORK – Greek-American businessman and philanthropist Elias Betzios passed away at age 91. He was one of the co-founders of Ellio’s Pizza, a frozen pizza that dominated the market in the Northeast U.S. He was an honorary member of the board of the Society of Epirotes “Anagenesis” and had served as Secretary of the World Council of Epirotes Abroad. Betzios was also a founder of the Holy Cross Community of Whitestone.
According to the Church’s website, “It is often said that the ‘father’ of our church is Mr. Elias Betzios. This title was bestowed upon him because of the following circumstances:
“Mr. Betzios was a longtime board member of the neighboring St. Demetrios Church of Astoria. When he relocated his family to the Whitestone area, the distance was too far to worship at St. Demetrios. It had been his lifelong-dream to establish a new church someday. In his conversations with Archbishop Iakovos, he was encouraged to pursue this dream and establish a new parish in the Whitestone area.
“This goal was furthered along by a letter sent to the Archdiocese by Argiro Mari pleading that a new church be established in the Whitestone area. Archbishop Iakovos at this point gave Mr. Betzios his blessing to proceed with a new parish.”
Elias Bezios was born in 1927 in Dolo Pogoni, Prefecture of Ioannina and made the decision to immigrate to the USA at the age of 30, in 1957.
Being an example of a pioneering Greek in the U.S., Betzios, together with his associates, George Liolis and Manny Tzelios, set up Ellios Pizza in the early 1960s, which became one of the most successful frozen pizza brands in the North East.
In fact, the brand name was a combination of the names of its three co-founders (EL-ias, LI-lis, Tzeli -OS).
After the sale of Ellios Pizza, which remains an active brand even today, Elias Betzios founded Betzios Pizza in 1978, with a factory in the area of Flushing, NY.
Indeed, he was a particularly beloved employer, showing great sensitivity to the wave of immigrants from Northern Epirus, providing a safe job to over 60 people who sought a better life in America. The Betzios Pizza factory was sold in 2012.
Betzios was elected President of the Panepirotic Federation three times, twice in the 1980s (1982-1984 and 1984-1986), and once more in 2000-2002. At the same time, he was Secretary of the World Council of Epirotes Abroad.
“Elias was a great patriot, benefactor, and friend. He made a great contribution to the Panepirotic Federation, to Associations such as “Anagenesis,” and he made a major contribution to the Epirus House on Broadway. He was a visionary, working enthusiastically and working closely. His death leaves a void and we will miss him,” said Panepirotic Federation of America President Nick Gage.
Betsios is survived by his wife, Julia, his two children, Stavros and Dimitris, and also his three grandchildren, Eliana, Elias, and Julia.
Panepirotic Federation of America former president Dimitris Tsoumpanos, spoke to The National Herald about his collaboration with Betzios, as well as their friendship, which lasted more than 40 years.
“Elias was the most charismatic person I met in my life,” said Tsoumpanos, who was in contact with the Betzios almost to the end.
“In the last 5 months, his health had deteriorated. But we were also in communication with his wife, Julia. He wanted to learn the news of the Omogenia, even now,” Tsoumpanos said.
Panepirotic Federation President Nick Gage noted Betzios’ deep interest for Northern Epirus, although he did not come from there but his village was close to the border with Albania. Tsoumpanos pointed out that Betzios loved Greece and was in touch with the political world in Greece and abroad in order to raise awareness about the situation in Northern Epirus.
Gage noted that Betzios had a very good sense of humor, but he never got anyone into trouble, while both his companions in the Panepirotic Federation of America remember how organized he was, and his love for the Hellenes Abroad.
“He was good company, he was funny, but very organized. We took many trips and organized many conferences together. Generally, he was a pleasant person and a very good husband, father, and grandfather. You meet few such people in life,” Gage concluded. Tsoumpanos added that Betzios “was also a regular reader of TNH in order to stay informed about homeland issues.”