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United States

The Successful Odyssey of Leonidas Papas from Northern Epirus

December 15, 2022

BOSTON – Leonidas Papa is the owner of the Lakeview Restaurant, located on the shore of Coventry Lake in Connecticut, a few miles away from the University of Connecticut and the Center of the Hellenic Paideia Society in Storrs. When the Greek Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, recently visited the university, Papa offered lunch to all who attended the related event even though Ilias Tomazos, the president of Paideia insisted on paying.

Papa had his own journey when he escaped from Albania in 1989 at 22 years old. He grew up in a small town close to Agioi Saranta and eventually crossed the border and went to Mavromati, Greece to seek asylum with three of his friends. There, a truck driver saw them walking and brought them to the police station in Filates.

In an interview with The National Herald he said: “I stayed there for two nights and then went to Konitsa for one week. By the second week I met one of my father’s cousins in Athens. He wasn’t in the best economic condition, but he helped me as much as he could. He directed me to Ano Kalamaki, a refugee center. They gave me a choice of going to America or staying in Greece. I decided to begin the papers to go to America. Until then, I worked in Athens as a painter and rented an apartment with another friend. Eventually, I met a friend from Ioannina and he advised me to move to Sparta and worked there for nice months in the little town Elos Scala Lakonia.”

Commemorative photo from the luncheon at Lake View restaurant. Shown are Ilias Tomazos, Leonidas Papa, Lina Mendoni, Alexandra Papadopoulou, and Theodoros Pavlakos
(Photo by TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos)

Papa continued, saying that, “I got a call that my papers were approved to immigrate to America. That’s where my second journey began. With the help of Catholic Charities, I arrived in Hartford, where they offered me English lessons, housing, and an allowance for essentials. For six months, I searched for a Greek community. One day on my way to English lessons, I saw a sign that said “Gyro.” I thought, I must meet them, they have to be Greek. I asked the priest to take me to the gyro place but he didn’t understand me. Eventually he did take me there. I asked the owners if there was a Greek community here in Hartford and gave them the address to my apartment. Shortly after, my now good friend, Kosta, showed up at my apartment and brought me to the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Hartford.”

Leonidas’ life in America began to develop nicely. “I started working at a Greek restaurant as a dishwasher and slowly I saved enough money to open a pizzeria in North Windham. Ironically, I sold the pizzeria to the first Greeks I met, from the Gyro restaurant. One year later I bought and started renovations at his new restaurant, the Lakeview in Coventry.” Leonidas, through the restaurant business, discovered a passion for real estate in Coventry and neighboring towns.

The Lake View restaurant at the panoramic location in Coventry, Connecticut. (Photo by TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos)

He said, “I built and renovated the restaurant slowly, and have owned it for 15 years. The Lakeview can host up to 350 people inside and 400 people on the patio. We have a variety of Greek, American, and Italian food. We have customers from all over Connecticut during the summer, and during the semester months we are supported by the students, faculty, and the families of UConn. It was an honor to host Lina Mendoni’s visit at my restaurant and for her to visit the university.”

With his wife, Mariana, and their children, Vasiliki and Christos, Leonidas would frequently visit Agioi Saranta to see his parents. He said, “unfortunately, I don’t have good memories from Agioi Saranta. When I was nine years old, my father was arrested under the Communist Party. My teachers used to beat me because my name is Leonidas” – too Greek, apparently, for a regime that repressed the Hellenism of its people.

 

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