BESSEMER, AL – Greek-American restauranteur James Bill Koikos died peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones on November 16. He is survived by his sister, Helen Koikos Cocoris (Dr. John G. Cocoris); his brother, Nicholas W. Koikos; his nieces Stacey Cocoris Craig (the late Hugh B. Craig, Connie, and Joe), Connie Cocoris Chwe (Dr. Myron S. Chwe, John Andrew, and Helen), and Joanna Cocoris Hufham (Dr. David C. Hufham, Anna, James, and Henry); his cousin Andreas Anastassakis (Katie, Nicoleta, and Philip); cousins Jimmy, George, and Pete Koikos of Tallahassee, Florida; and numerous cousins in the Koikos, Anastassakis, and Koutroulakis families.
James Bill Koikos was born on April 21, 1938 in Birmingham, AL, to Bill and Anastasia Koikos. Jimmy, as he was known, had an idyllic childhood growing up on Dartmouth Avenue in Bessemer and working after school as a busboy at the Bright Star Cafe. He attended Arlington School and Bessemer High School, graduating in 1957.
After attending the University of Alabama, Koikos started working at the Bright Star on January 1, 1960. Aside from his time serving in the United States Coast Guard in the early 1960s, he worked at the Bright Star for the rest of his life. His ambition and natural gregariousness as manager and host led the Bright Star to higher levels of cuisine, service, and recognition from the 1970s onward.
The addition of Koikos’ niece Stacey Craig and cousin Andreas Anastassakis to the already-exceptional Bright Star staff was a great personal and professional blessing to him. Today the Bright Star’s reputation for excellence–including an “America’s Classic” award in 2010 from the James Beard Foundation in New York–is largely due to Jimmy Koikos’ vision and tenacity.
He was best known and loved for his infectious sense of humor, his generosity to family and friends, and the keen interest he showed in everyone he met. He took great pride in having friends from all walks of life, including coaches, athletes, politicians, businessmen, and ministers. Jimmy was honored and humbled to be a member of the A-Club, the Red Elephant Club, and the Board of Directors of the First Financial Bank in Bessemer.
On the rare occasions that he left the Bright Star, Koikos enjoyed attending Alabama football games, visiting Panama City Beach, and seeing his cousins in Tallahassee, Florida. To have known him is to understand how much his love and humor will be missed every day, and how enormously his presence will be felt at the restaurant he loved, in the hometown that he loved. May his memory be eternal.
Koikos’ family wishes to express their deep gratitude to the many friends whose visits, prayers, and cards provided sustaining strength to Jimmy during his illness. Special thanks to: The Bright Star staff, Fr. Gregory Edwards, Fr. Paul Costopoulos, Dr. Marty Heslin, Dr. Robert Conry, Dr. Jennifer De Los Santos, and Dr. Reid Christopher.
Visitation is on Tuesday, Nov. 19 from 4-7 PM with Trisagion service at 7, at Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Birmingham. Funeral is on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 11 AM at the Cathedral. A memorial meal will be served in the Cathedral Banquet Hall following a graveside service at Elmwood Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 307 19th Street South, Birmingham, AL 35233; The Robert E. Reed Oncology Research Foundation c/o Hannon Sharley Davidson, P.O. Box 530186, Birmingham, AL 35253; and The 1831 Scholarship Fund at the University of Alabama, P.O. Box 870101, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0101.
Published in The Birmingham News on Nov. 17.