A Tribute to My Grandfather, John Andrew Kostakos
My paternal grandfather, John Andrew Kostakos, about 5’10” tall, of medium build with brown hair and brown eyes. He was born in St. Johns (Agios Ioannis), Lakonia, on April 2, 1879. He was good natured and honest and was well-liked and highly respected by business associates, family members and friends. His children remember him as being extremely kind and mild-mannered. He was never belligerent, aggressive or insistent; rather, he would often compromise with people to avoid confrontations or arguments. He was also very generous and sensitive towards others and often helped friends and family members in need.
John was the youngest of eleven children. His father, Andrew, had married twice. When John was a year old, his mother died; and when he was seven or eight, his father, Andrew, died as well. John and his siblings were raised by their half-brother, Gregory, and his wife, Maria.
When he was fourteen, John left Gregory’s home to work for a wealthy man whose name was Mr. Saldoferos. John was employed as the family chauffeur, and his responsibilities were to drive beautiful horse-drawn carriages and take care of the stables. Mr. Saldoferos seemed to be very fond of John, and made him the manager over the other boys who worked for him. John was an honest and hard worker. He gained the respect of Mr. Saldoferos, who eventually gave him the money to emigrate to America.
John left from the port of Pireas and he arrived in Ellis Island, New York on April 23, 1899 on the SS Gascogne. It was very difficult to find work, and he worked for a short time at a General Electric Corporation factory in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He left that job because the work was not steady, and went to Brooklyn, New York and began working as a fruit peddler. John and his future brother-in-law, Peter Stavracos, peddled during the day and at night shared a furnished room with their brothers. They slept on their push-carts because the floor was very damp.
After working for three years, John had saved enough money to go into the restaurant business with two partners in Coney Island, a popular beach resort. Eventually, he was able to purchased his own place, “The Broadway” in 1919 and turned it into a successful American seafood restaurant. The meals were cooked to order, and John would make special desserts like rice pudding and baked apples. The business was very successful.
Even though his philosophy was, “moderation in everything you do,” John’s life was not one of moderation for he was a hard working, diligent man who labored 18 hours a day. His store was open seven days a week, from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00-3:00 a.m. (sometimes on Saturday nights it would remain open until 4:00 a.m.) After closing at night, John would sleep for a couple of hours before arriving at the fish market at 6:00 a.m. John never closed the store. He worked every day, without fail. Even on his son, Andrew’s, wedding day, he opened the restaurant from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. He needed to earn even the small amount grossed that day ($20.00). The next day, he was opened for business as usual.
In 1933, John became a United States citizen. He was a man with foresight and perception about property values, and he was successful investing in real estate in the New York metropolitan area. Although he owned several properties which added to his income, John continued to work until arthritis settled in his hands and wrists and the restaurant work he had been performing for years became painful. He decided to sell the store and retire. He and Hariklia moved to a beautiful house in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn. Even though the rental properties supplied them with a comfortable income, John found it difficult to stop working completely and be idle. Every morning, he would walk three blocks to the waterfront and spend a couple of hours sitting on a bench and watching the charter and fishing boats come in and out of the harbor.
John loved to play penny poker, casino and rummy. When grandchildren reached the ages of seven or eight, he patiently taught them to play checkers and cards. Sunday afternoons were the time for friends and relatives to visit. Often they stayed for dinner, and by late in the day a jovial group would have gathered around the dining room table to play cards and talk.
John was an extraordinarily healthy man who never was sick. When he died on December 14, 1970, it was a very sudden and quick passing. John and Hariklia left a progeny of strong, righteous children who internalized the values and principles taught to them by their parents. The family philosophy is: move on with your life and never look back. Don’t fret or worry about the past; instead, learn from your mistakes and move ahead.
Certainly my ancestors demonstrated tremendous courage when they left their homeland and forged a new life which promised, but not guaranteed, better opportunities for themselves and their posterity. The children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of John and Hariklia Kostakos take enormous pride in their heritage and in the people who so lovingly lived and taught life’s highest values and principles.