My dad’s restaurant, The Spinning Wheel Diner in New Brunswick, New Jersey, was more than a way to make a living. It was a place to bring family together.
In October 1958, my cousin Penny eloped with her boyfriend Terry on Halloween night. They tied the knot in a quick private ceremony at the office of the mayor of Plainfield, New Jersey. Terry was a college student and Penny had just started teaching third grade. Both were 24 years old.
When Penny became pregnant the following year, our Yiayia, (grandmother) from the village of Kefala in rural Crete, was furious. “In the eyes of God this child will not have a father.” No wedding sacrament meant “you aren’t really married.” She asked, “Why you not get married in the Greek Orthodox Church?”
This all sounded so desperate and terrifying when coming from our grandmother, a staunch, old school, dictator! At the time, family struggles prevented Penny’s parents from offering a wedding.
So my dad and mom arranged a wedding at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Piscataway New Jersey. Cousin Penny walked up the aisle in a maternity dress. Terry, who was quickly baptized the night before the ceremony, went
Following the ceremony, my dad closed the Spinning Wheel Diner to paying customers. The night was for family. The diner became the center of celebration and love for invited guests. The reception, compliments of my father, John Paitakes, was a special event that reunited the family with great fanfare. “That day the Spinning Wheel Diner was the most beautiful place on earth,” says Penny. “Terry and I were dirt poor. Being pregnant and walking up the aisle in church in maternity clothes was very stressful. In addition I had just been fired from my teaching job. They didn’t want a pregnant woman in the classroom with small children,” she recalls, adding, “Your parents and the Spinning Wheel will always have a special place in my heart, I will never forget this act of kindness. This October we celebrate our 57th Anniversary.”
For many proprietors, a restaurant is not just a business. It’s the center of family life. And you never know what small kindness will create a lifetime memory for someone else, family or customer.
Lynn (Eleni Paitakes) Lotkowictz is working with Global Volunteers Crete Greece program.
This non-profit, NGO agency is based in Minnesota. They send teams to various countries working with children on essential services. Proud of her Greek heritage, she is focused on helping get the word out to other Greek/American about this opportunity. Teams work with
Students and adult to improve conversational English and also work at a day facility for students with special needs. For more information about the rewarding opportunity, a “volunteer vacation” email Eleni at