DAVIS, CA – The Symposium Restaurant was founded in the late 1970s and recently past employees gathered there to fondly recall the old days and celebrate the family-owned Greek eatery’s 42 years in East Davis which was launched by owners Nick and Kontilo Pandeleos in 1977.
“In May, we will have been in business here for 43 years,” said Kontilo to Jeff Hudson, reporting for the Davis Enterprise, who wrote that “Symposium – which is an established neighborhood institution, despite what some might regard as a slightly out-of-the-way location in one of the town’s older shopping centers – expects to be serving generations of loyal local customers for years to come.
Among the participants was Cathy Finnie (who was a waitress) and Kent Smith (who started as a dishwasher and became a waiter).”
“Davis was a little town in 1977,” said Kontilo of the place whose population was then approximately 30,000 people. “There was a professor of Greek-Roman history at UC Davis, Stylianos Spyridakis, who wanted to see a Greek restaurant in town, and he urged us to come here and open one. There were a fair number of Greek exchange students at UC Davis in those days.”
Kontilo is from the island of Paros and Nick grew up in Athens. They met in 1963, and they got married in Montreal. “Soon it will be 56 years that we’ve been married,” she said.
They owned a cafe in Montreal, “which is where they met Prof. Spyridakis, who described Davis to them in glowing terms,” the article noted. “But at that time, you were not allowed to build anything new at all,” Kontilo said.
They located a venue, however, located in the Davis Manor Shopping Center. The couple added wall murals to the coffee shop they found there – and made the dining tables themselves.
An old menu shows the early offerings: Greek-style pizza, special salads, and a few seafood dishes. The Enterprise notes “that menu has long since been expanded to include more traditional Greek specialties… Symposium is probably the only place in town where you can order lamb souvlaki, mousaka (roasted eggplant, with or without beef), and kalamarakia (pan-fried baby squid).
The menu also includes some more American-style options, including the Captain’s Steak (which comes with prawns).” Bob Dunning, who wrote a column for the Enterprise, called it the “best steak in town.”
Finnie said, “this restaurant saved my life. Applying to work here was the best thing I ever did. It was a loving family…I only worked here for about three years, then I got married.”
“They gave us jobs, they took care of us, and they fed us,” said Kent Smith. “I started as a dishwasher when I was 16, and I moved out of my (parent’s) house. Then I became a busboy, and later a waiter…But when I came home from the Navy on leave, Nick would always give me a (temporary) job, something to do…I still like to come here and order some of my favorite items…they are still on the menu. And I like seeing the old wall murals again.”
The article notes “a family atmosphere permeates the place. During the course of the interview for this article — Nick Pandeleos let Kontilo do all the talking — a grandson who’s away at college and home for the holidays dropped in to greet his grandparents.”
Symposium’s famous guests and catering clients included President Bill Clinton and governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis. The late Sacramento congressman Robert Matsui was a customer, as was Sacramento developer and businessman Angelo Tsakopoulos – Eleni Kounalakis, the current lieutenant governor of California is his daughter.
Asked about secret it the restaurant’s success, Kontilo said, “The quality of the food. Everything is fresh. Everything is cooked to order.”