George Vasiliades was born on the island of Karpathos during katochi—the Nazi occupation of Greece.
He grew up so poor—no shoes, malnourished, not a pencil to use in school—that dinner was often a couple of roasted onions.
The plate in the center of the dinner table often held a single onion.
"Greece was poor because of the war. We had real hunger,” said George, born near the village of Olympos on March 29, 1942. “If you had onions you were better off than other people.”
Better off than so many others—300,000 people in Athens alone - who starved to death during Greece’s “Great Famine” of 1941 and 1942; long months in which trucks went through the streets picking up the dead.
George was three years old when the war ended. The withdrawal of the Germans led almost immediately to the antartopolemos, a guerilla led civil war pitting Communists against the Greek National Army. Another five years of chaos and deprivation ensued.
Today, the business that hungry kid founded in Baltimore—the Sip & Bite restaurant where you are likely sitting over a good hot meal as you read this—uses 100 pounds of onions a week.
That is nothing compared to the tons of onions and potatoes—not to mention warehouses of eggs and wheat fields of toast—that Vasiliades has gone through in his more than half-century as one of Baltimore’s champion grill cooks.
George worked almost every day of those 50 years and he and his loved ones have never missed a meal.
“When I come here I didn’t know what a tip was,” said George. “I had clothes, shoes, food and was making maybe $15 a week. I think that maybe we come to heaven.”
This is George’s heavenly story_the tale of the diner he started at the corner of Aliceanna and Boston streets—first on one side of an alley called Van Lill and then on the other—on the Baltimore waterfront.
It’s about the way the neighborhood changed around him from working people—can factories, lumber yards, stevedores and tugboat men—to wealthy senior citizens and young professionals wandering from pub to pub in college sweatshirts.
How liver and onions stepped aside for Eggs Athena.
A tale of the son and his young wife who took over the joint_fixing it up, making it sparkle and shimmer, bringing the last century into a new one with a little glitz and show biz—after George fried his last egg and retired to play cards in a Greek coffee shop up the road.
This is once upon a time in America.
To be continued …