SCHENECTADY, NY – John Papanikos, the longtime owner of Newest Lunch in Schenectady passed away in Greece on May 9, The Daily Gazette (TDG) reported. He was 65.
Papanikos had been living in Greece for the past two years family members told TDG.
Papanikos’ nephew Dennis Plakas said, “Despite his hardships, despite his respiratory problems, he would never dwell on that. He wouldn't want you to feel bad for him. He would say, 'How are the kids? How are you feeling? Stay close to God. Don't forget to pray,’ while other people might want pity, he wanted to continue to raise your spirits up,” TDG reported.
Papanikos had bought the landmark diner on Albany Street in 1987, TDG reported.
Plakas said that “respiratory issues were a factor” in his uncle’s death, but not COVID-19, adding that “they don't have a lot of cases in the entire country,” TDG reported.
Plakas told TDG that the respiratory issue had “just progressed to a point where it left him in a position where he couldn't really move any more. He was living here in Schenectady and when he went back to his home country of Greece, his health got so bad he wasn't able to come back to America.”
Papanikos was living in the town of Amfilochia, by the Ambracian Gulf, and “was near several family members,” Plakas told TDG, adding that “It's been very difficult trying to get there, trying to get him help, he was in the mountains of Greece, four hours from Athens. So for somebody who has trouble breathing, to get him into a car, drive four hours, from Athens to JFK [John F. Kennedy International Airport], JFK to Albany, that's such a daunting task.”
“Papanikos was well known for the narrow, diner-style restaurant near the bottom of the Albany Street hill, just off Veeder Avenue and located between Georgetta Dix Plaza and Germania Avenue,” TDG reported, noting that “Newest Lunch has been open since 1921, always in the same location and always operated by Greek restaurateurs.”
Papanikos “would lead by example,” Plakas told TDG, “He was the first one there and the last one to leave. If he opened up at 7 AM, he was there by 5:30 in the morning. He'd work, go home, take a nap, come back and work until 7 o’clock. Then they had a pizza place next door that would stay open until 10, so he's be there until 10 o'clock at night.”
Newest Pizza closed when Papanikos moved to Greece, TDG reported.
“Nobody could handle the hours that he was doing. He was a machine,” Plakas told TDG, adding that “above all else, he was about family. That was his end game, to be a stepping stone to others.”
Owner of Union Pizza in Schenectady Gus Papanikos told TDG about his late brother, “He was always doing good things for everybody. There is not a person who has anything bad to say about my brother. He raised seven kids, he was a kind man.”
Another nephew, George Plakas, Dennis' brother, now owns Newest Lunch, and said that “many customers remember Papanikos,” TDG reported, adding that “the guy was a staple there since the mid-‘80s. He leaves a lasting impression, he's kind of one of those human beings. Most people who saw him on a regular basis are going to associate him with hard work. He was literally there at the crack of dawn, six, seven days a week. The guy never stopped, never ever stopped working.”
George Plakas told TDG that his uncle was “selfless,” and “if you wanted to have a conversation about God, there's the guy you want to have it with. He could go on for hours and hours.”