2011-03-11

Greek Cafe’s George Fetes 75 Years Of Family, Friends

When George Loizides traveled to Long Beach with his wife and three children more than 30 years ago, he said the city had a sizeable Greek population, but the new immigrant was “a stranger among strangers.”
http://www.gazettes.com/news/business/article_464aa3fe-3ae7-11e0-b132-001cc4c03286.html

As the namesake and the face behind George’s Greek Café, Loizides isn’t a stranger to many people these days — and if first-time customers step into the restaurant’s downtown location at 135 Pine Ave., Loizides makes them feel like family before their meals are served.

Born Feb. 22, 1936, on the small island nation of Cyprus, Loizides was the youngest of eight children. After graduating high school in 1954, he moved to Botswana, following an older brother who had opened a chain of general stores selling household products. Loizides said he traveled throughout Africa during the next 10 years, finally finding a home — and a place to begin a family — in what was then the British colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

“In 1964, I returned home (to Cyprus) … and my (future) wife came with me to Rhodesia,” Loizides said. “We knew each other from childhood. There was a fence separating our houses, and we would look over and see each other.”

Loizides and Rodoula, known to the restaurants’ staff simply as “Momma,” married on May 17, 1964. However, when civil unrest erupted in the late 1970s, Loizides said he wanted to transplant his family to Long Beach “for the universities.”

“The government of Zimbabwe confiscated all of our property and money, and (closed) our business,” Loizides said. “We had to leave the country and the government gave us $500 to come (to America).”

Within three days after stepping foot in Long Beach on June 16, 1980, Loizides said he began working as a busboy at a liquor store near Santa Fe Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. His wages were $4.25 per hour.

After working at various jobs and being unemployed from 1992 to 1995, Loizides said he found a job at a Greek restaurant near Pacific Coast Highway and Loynes Drive in the late 1990s. Then in his early 60s, Loizides said his job was to sweep, mop and wash dirty dishes. Since Jimmy, Loizides’ eldest son, didn’t want to see his father doing menial labor at his age, the successful restaurant manager and business owner opened a Greek deli downtown.

“I believe in family,” Loizides said. “Family should stick together no matter what. I had a family meeting (when we came to Long Beach) and told my kids, ‘As long as we stick together, we’ll survive.’”

The philosophy helped the family through difficult times, and it’s the secret recipe behind George’s Greek Cafes’ success. Jimmy opened George’s Greek Deli in 1999 at Pine Avenue and Third Street.

The name soon changed to George’s Greek Café as Rodoula’s recipes piqued the interest and taste buds of customers. Rip, Loizides’ younger son, and Nicky, Loizides’ daughter and the baby of the family, all are part of the business today.

Now with three George’s restaurants (the other two are in Belmont Shore and Lakewood), Loizides said he loves what he does every day as the downtown location’s host and greeter. Since he is marking a milestone Tuesday with his 75th birthday, Loizides said it’s not a party that’s important — he is happy with family surrounding him.

“I want my grandkids to grow up and I want to see them get married,” Loizides said. “That would be the greatest (birthday) gift.”

For more information, visit www.georgesgreekcafe.com.