SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Greek immigrant Gus Konstin, the ebullient restaurateur who welcomed patrons to his historic John’s Grill in San Francisco for more than half a century, passed away on July 30 at the age of 87.
Konstin, born Constantine Konstantinidis, was known to welcome customers with open arms and a hearty, “Only in America, only in America.” They ranged from tourists to movie stars to local politicians, high-powered financiers, police officers, private eyes and reporters.
He was born to an impoverished family in the Greek village of Matsouki (pop. 75). In World War II, he fought the German occupation with the Greek underground. In 1949, during a period of political unrest in Greece, he left home for the United States.
Arriving in New York with $20 in his pocket, he headed for the West Coast. Before long he was working as a busboy and waiter at Jack’s in San Francisco, frequented by the city’s rich and powerful.
While taking adult classes at Galileo High School to learn English, he met a young Mexican girl named Sydna, a fellow student. Romance bloomed, and they were married February 25, 1955.
“Neither spoke the other’s language, so they always conversed in English,” said their son John Konstin. “It must have worked out, because they had four children and were married for 54 years.”
Gus’s wife saved all of his tip money, and the couple began to invest in San Francisco real estate. In the late 1960s, Sydna’s financial talent and intelligence and Gus’ charm and hard work made it possible for the couple to buy the three-story jewel box restaurant, John’s Grill, founded in 1908.
In 1930, the eatery gained fame for its small role in the detective novel The Maltese Falcon by San Francisco’s Dashiell Hammett. The author was a regular at the restaurant.
In 1990, Konstin turned the business over to his son John. But he continued to drop by, greeting customers warmly with “John’s Grill – nothing but the best!”
Sydna Konstin died in 2009. In addition to his son John of San Francisco, Gus Konstin is survived by his son Constantine of Portland, OR; daughters Christina and Annie of San Francisco; and six grandchildren. The family offers special thanks to Gus’ longtime caregivers, Dora Escobar and Irma Irizarry.
The visitation will take place on Monday, August 6 at 5 PM and a vigil service at 7 PM at Duggan’s Serra Mortuary, 500 Westlake Avenue, Daly City. A funeral mass will be held on Tuesday, August 7 at 10 AM at St. Cecilia Church, 2555 17th Ave in San Francisco. Burial to follow at Cypress Lawn, Colma.
The family prefers contributions in lieu of flowers to the San Francisco Fire Fighters Toy Program, 2225 Jerrold Ave., San Francisco, CA 94124
Condolences may be sent to the Konstin family in care of John’s Grill, 63 Ellis St, San Francisco.
(From the San Francisco Chronicle, published August 3).