[MGSA-L] Ties that bind - Karpenisi to North Carolina

June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Sun Apr 10 22:00:21 PDT 2011

"Ties that Bind" is a four-part series from The Fayetteville Observer
by reporter Kim Hasty on the local Greek community's past, present and

Use the URL here


to access the first article (April 10th) and then follows the future
episodes and the slide shows and videos associated with the series

June S

1] Published: 12:00 AM, Sun Apr 10, 2011
Ties bind Observer's Kim Hasty to Greece


Kim Hasty

In the first half of the 20th century, thousands of people boarded
ships that would take them on grueling, month-long trips from Greece
to America, where they had heard prosperity awaited.

My grandfather was one of them.

He died many years before I was born, but through having lived in
Fayetteville most of my life, I found other ties that bound me to the
Greek community.

Those ties are friendships formed in classrooms, at PTA meetings and
at basketball games, where we tried our best to look out for each
others children.

And they are friendships made at many of Fayetteville's favorite
restaurants, where the food is always good and the owner always makes
you feel at home.

Through the years, I wondered why their parents and grandparents
before them chose Fayetteville. How has their presence managed to
shape and change our community? What did they endure in arriving here
and making a place for themselves? How have they been able to so
successfully preserve their own culture here?

The Pat Reese Fellowship, named in memory of our colorful, longtime
reporter who died in 2000, gives veteran Fayetteville Observer
journalists funding and time to pursue a personal project. It gave me
the opportunity to try to answer these questions and to learn a little
more about the kind of experience my grandfather may have had here in

I started with long conversations with many of my longtime
Greek-American friends in Fayetteville, who graciously and patiently
helped me embark on my search for answers. I also talked to many other
Greek-Americans who would become dear friends along the way.

They may disagree with each other from time to time, but they are
always ready with a hug, and, quite often, with food so wonderful that
you will want to eat until you hurt.

By traveling to Greece, I was able to truly find out about the ties
that bind these people to a beautiful country that has endured the
ravages of war and economic devastation.

Thanks to my Greek friends in Fayetteville, I was able to meet Angie
and Arthur Skenteris and the Papageorgiou family, who helped me
experience these ties firsthand.

In Fayetteville and in Greece, I talked to many people and could have
talked to many more, and I continuously worried about missing out on
someone's story. I know I did miss many stories.

But I am grateful to have been able to capture the stories of many
people who have embellished all of our lives and who have left an
indelible mark on our community.

I am convinced that Fayetteville wouldn't be as warm and interesting a
place to live without them.

Published: 06:55 AM, Sun Apr 10, 2011

Ties that bind: Food and faith anchor Fayetteville's Greek community


By Kim Hasty
Staff writer

Chilly raindrops splash on the asphalt under the neon sign for the
Haymont Grill.

A man walks in the door from the Fort Bragg Road side of the
restaurant and into an empty banquet room. An obvious infraction: A
sign on the door clearly asks that customers use the Morganton Road

The man looks around, relieved to be inside the warm room but puzzled
by its emptiness.

Right away, Pete Skenteris intercepts him.

"You want some breakfast?'' Skenteris asks, a greeting he uses as
often and as warmly as some people say hello. "You can go right
through the kitchen.''

He puts an arm around the man's shoulder and leads him past the grill,
finally seating him at a table in the main part of the restaurant,
where business is bustling.

Skenteris then walks off to visit other customers - friends, he calls
them - laughing and talking as he moves easily from table to table.

It is a routine born of nearly 60 years in the restaurant trade - six
decades of hard work that started after his arrival in Fayetteville
from the rustic Greek village of Stenoma in 1951. It is a routine he
performs now as easily as if he were flipping a couple of eggs over

Skenteris long ago worked himself up the traditional Greek immigrant
ladder, starting out scrubbing a restaurant's floors for a dollar a
day. He provides a pretty fair example of hundreds of Greeks who came
to Fayetteville in the last century seeking opportunity and a better
way of life.

Like him, many arrived with almost nothing, not even the basics of
English. And like him, they worked hard from the day they arrived,
saved their money and turned their sweat into success.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the restaurant business.

Today, Greek-Americans operate dozens of restaurants in Fayetteville,
everything from the upscale Chris's Steakhouse to the down-home
Haymont Grill.

They are places where the owners will greet you when you walk in, pull
up a chair at your table to visit and ask about your children.

"People will come in and say, 'We wish we were Greek,' '' said Manda
Parrous, who became part of a Greek family in 1997 when she married
Nick Parrous, co-owner of Luigi's Italian Restaurant and Bar.

The restaurants - the visible legacy of all the hard work - make the
Greeks one of Fayetteville's most recognizable immigrant communities.
It is in those kitchens and dining rooms that so many have become
vital and vibrant members of the community.

But hard work and friendly restaurants are only part of the Greek
story in Fayetteville. Dig deeper and it is clear that the strength of
their family ties and the unifying grace of their faith have helped
them build lives here while remaining bound to the home many were
forced to leave.

"Isn't it amazing?'' asked Dina Goodson, whose father, John Moutos,
came to Fayetteville from Greece in 1938. "I'm so proud of the people
who came before us.''

The roots of their enduring values can be found thousands of miles
from Fayetteville in the rustic mountain villages of central Greece,
the seaside towns of the Peloponnese and the crowded, graffiti-filled
streets of Athens.

In their ancient homeland, it's easy to see why the Greeks in
Fayetteville hold so dearly to their heritage, their faith, their
strong work ethic and - of course - their food.

Food, after all, is their preferred way of making everyone feel welcome.

Central Greece is 6,432 miles from Fayetteville - a 13-hour flight and
four hours of driving north along a highway that hugs the coastline of
the Aegean Sea before turning westward into more mountainous terrain.

In other words, nearly a world away. A different language, a different
monetary system, a different culture.

It took Angie Skenteris just a few seconds to close that distance.
With her stunning smile, she warmed the early morning chill from the
cobbled streets of Karpenisi, the capital of the prefecture known as
Evrytania in central Greece.

"Ya sas!" she said, showing me to a well-worn four-door sedan wedged
into one of the rarely available parallel-parking spots on the main
street of Karpenisi. Behind the wheel, her husband, Arthur, was ready
to show off the countryside.

Suddenly, I felt at home. And in some ways, I was. Many
Greek-Americans who live in Fayetteville were born right here, in
these picturesque villages that dot the countryside.

When people in Fayetteville go out to eat, chances are fairly good
that the person cooking the meal learned about food by watching his
mother and grandmother standing over a wood stove in a stone house in
one of Evrytania's villages.

The recipe for Luigi's spaghetti sauce came from here, handed down
nearly 100 years ago from the mother of Pete Parrous, the founder of
the restaurant on McPherson Church Road.

At last count, more than 70 restaurants in the Fayetteville area can
trace their roots directly to Evrytania, which is about the same size,
in square miles, as Cumberland County.

Count the Haymont Grill among those. Its owner, Pete Skenteris, grew
up in Stenoma, a quaint village about 11 miles northwest of Karpenisi.

Angie Skenteris is Pete's sister-in-law, married for 37 years to
Pete's younger brother, Arthur.

Arthur helped start Chicken King in Fayetteville before moving to
Fairfax, Va., and, finally, back home to Greece.

Another Skenteris brother, George, owns George's Pastas, Gyros and NY
Subs on Yadkin Road in Fayetteville, a restaurant he opened after
arriving in the United States in 1966.

Before the Skenteris boys were feeding people in America, they were
sitting at the family table in Stenoma while their mother, Faye, did
the cooking.

"There was no Hardee's or McDonald's in those days,'' Pete Skenteris
said. "My mother had to feed nine kids. She would put lunch on the
table, watch everyone eat and then say, 'Well, I'm going back in the
kitchen to start supper.' ''

The Skenteris family home still sits at the base of the Velouchi, a
majestic mountain that now is home to a popular ski resort.

Angie and Arthur Skenteris can take you into the same kitchen where
Faye Skenteris fed her hungry family.

The two-bedroom stone house, which has changed little through the
decades, now serves as a summer getaway for family members visiting
from the United States. And it still feels like home, too, down to the
black-and-white family portrait that hangs on one wall.

Long ago, the Skenteris parents slept in one room while their nine
children slept side by side on a mattress in a larger room with a

The Skenterises were related to many of their neighbors, either
directly or by marriage. The villagers spent their lives together -
tending fields, celebrating marriages, observing funeral rites and
keeping an eye on each other's children.

If you were part of the community, you were made to feel like part of
a larger family.

That feeling of togetherness - a community bound by love, sharing and
hard work - went uninterrupted until it was shattered by two wars that
prompted an exodus to America.

The Greeks who immigrated to Fayetteville beginning in the late 1940s
weren't the first to arrive in the city.

The first Greeks in Fayetteville were Constantine, Arthur and Thomas
Havelos, brothers who arrived in 1908.

In 1918, Nick Fasul arrived, followed by his brother Steve. They
opened Steve's Place on Hay Street and were later instrumental in
helping to found Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church.

But the migration after World War II was the biggest.

During that war, German troops devastated Evrytania and other parts of
Greece, burning schools and villages and executing thousands. By the
time the Germans were defeated, the country was bankrupt, its
government in shambles.

The civil war that followed - when communists unsuccessfully tried to
take over the government - was even worse. More Greeks were killed in
the civil war than in World War II, and as many as 700,000 were
displaced from their homes. While the rest of the world was
rebuilding, Greece faced economic ruin.

It was against this backdrop that many Greeks were forced to make the
decision to splinter their families, sending whoever could escape to
America for a chance at a better life.

Panagiote "Pete'' Skenteris left Stenoma and his parents as a boy in
1951, like nearly 200,000 others. His father, Konstantine, persuaded a
family member to orchestrate his eldest son's move to America. Pete
was 14.

"The communists tried to take over, and if they caught you on the
streets, they'd capture you," Pete Skenteris said. "They took my first
cousin to Russia.

"They destroyed most of Evrytania, but President Truman, bless his
soul, said that anyone from the state of Evrytania could come to the
United States if they had someone to sponsor them.

"My Uncle Tommy said, 'What am I going to do with Pete? He's going to
need a baby-sitter.'

"I didn't need a baby-sitter. I worked my tail off.''

Konstantine Skenteris hoped his son's move would benefit more than just his son.

Eventually, it was a lifeline for an entire family.

P ete Skenteris left the port of Piraeus near Athens on the
Christopher Columbus.

"It was half passenger and half cargo,'' he said. "We hit every port,
and it took 29 days to get here.''

As soon as he arrived in Fayetteville, his uncle Tommy Skenteris put
him to work scrubbing floors and washing dishes at the Silver Moon
Cafe on Hay Street. By the time he was 17, he had been on his feet so
much he developed varicose veins.

But his hard work paid off. After a stint at the Lighthouse
Restaurant, owned by Luigi's founder Pete Parrous, Skenteris went to
work for Steve Fermanides at the Haymont Grill on Sept. 9, 1956.
Fermanides allowed him to buy half of the restaurant in 1960 and then,
when Fermanides retired in 1967, Skenteris bought the other half.

Not long after that, he brought 47 of his relatives from nine families
to the United States.

Arthur Skenteris was not among that group. He had joined his brother
in Fayetteville a few years earlier. He then met and married Angie,
who was born in the village of Klafsio near Karpenisi.

The couple opened Angie's Family Restaurant in Virginia and worked 70
hours a week to turn it into a thriving business.

But they eventually tired of the hectic pace and returned to Karpenisi
when their three daughters were teenagers.

"We didn't know our daughters until we moved back here,'' Angie said.

The unmistakable aromas of simmering marinara sauce and fresh fish
waft from the kitchen of the Taverna Panorama, a favorite of the
Karpenisi locals and the growing number of tourists showing up each

On this day, two groups of customers stare hard at the menu, their
heads bowed in concentration.

It is obvious that both groups, one from Israel and one from Germany,
are confounded.

They can't read a word of the Greek menu.

So how do you order souvlaki or moussaka or even a Greek salad when
you can't find any of it on the menu?

Angie Skenteris comes to the rescue. And then, emerging from the
kitchen where he has been engaging in jolly conversation with the
owner and the cooks, Arthur Skenteris comes to help, too.

"A green salad? That's what you want? Here it is,'' said Angie
Skenteris, pointing out an item on the menu to the group from Israel.
At a nearby table, Arthur explains the options for pasta to the group
from Germany.

Even in retirement, the love of food and hospitality is so engrained
that the two spend a couple of days a week hanging out in the
restaurant as volunteer greeters and translators. Another country,
another restaurant, but not much different from the welcoming presence
Pete Skenteris brings to the Haymont Grill.

He's 74 now, but Pete still rises before dawn at least twice a week.

Sometimes, he manages to convince himself to relax. To enjoy a
solitary cup of coffee or to take a walk. Years of hard work have paid
off in the ability to spend time in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he likes
to walk in the sand and fish.

But after decades of long workdays, relaxation still takes practice.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the routine is more familiar and, really,
more comforting.

On those days, so that his sons can each take one day off a week,
Skenteris drives into the heart of town, unlocks the door to the
Haymont Grill and starts the coffee brewing.

He prepares the biscuits, the grits and the hash browns before the
breakfast rush begins. Then he flips the switch on the familiar neon
sign that has welcomed four generations of customers to one of the
oldest restaurants in Fayetteville.

Skenteris works against a backdrop crowded with framed photo after
framed photo of famous and important people who have stopped by over
the years. Politicians and entertainers. Army officers and
businessmen. Nelson Rockefeller, Jesse Helms and Terry Sanford. Red
Skelton and Roy Williams.

But the fact is, Skenteris offers everyone the same hearty welcome
typical of Greek hospitality. It doesn't matter whether the customer
has a famous name or is someone who just wandered in through the wrong

Staff writer Kim Hasty can be reached at hastyk at fayobserver.com or 486-3591.


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