By Dr. John Paitakes
I grew up in a family-owned business in central New Jersey. My father was the co-owner of the original Spinning Wheel Diner, Restaurant, and Cocktail Lounge in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
During the 50’s and 60’s, I worked in the business as a teenager during my high school college years and a year after graduating. I worked as a busboy, cashier, waiter, bartender and manager. Although the working hours were very long, 10 & 12 hour shifts were normal. In spite of the long hours, I found the work most interesting and enjoyable. As I reflect back on this experience, there were a number of lifelong lessons learned. As a result of the experience, I developed a great deal of respect for a dedicated work ethic. Hard and meaningful work can lead to success. Working with a diversified staff and customers, provided a greater understanding of cultural differences and enhanced my human relations skills. From a management perspective, my understanding of organizing and managing personnel of all ages was greatly enhanced. These were some of the lifelong critical attributes learned. These and many other attributes have been instrumental in aiding me in my working life in several different careers spanning over fifty years. Although I am presently not employed in the food industry, I have many friends and relatives who still work in this most fascinating industry. My family and I patronize many different diners and restaurants owned and operated by Greeks. In addition to enjoying the Greek diet, we also enjoy the wide selection of menu items offered in many diners any time of the day or evening. In addition to the menu selections and accommodations, equally important is interacting and having discourse with the owner or manager and staff. Eating out is a social event for my family and me. In other words, we do not want to go to a dining venue and simply “eat and run”. Greeks are generally very sociable and hospitable. We call it “Philitimo”.
Now that I have grown children and grandchildren, on many occasions we all dine together. On most occasions, I will commence a conversation with the owner or manager of a Greek establishment. The two questions that ultimately always come up in conversation are “what part of Greece are you or your family from” and “what Greek Church do you belong to”. On more than one occasion the owner will offer a complimentary drink or dessert. My family refers to this as “the Greek Connection”. I do not strike up a conversation with the owner or manager with the intent of getting a “free drink or dessert”! I am curious to find out what part of Greece they or their family was from in comparison to my family. My parents always stressed the philosophy of “Philotimo” when I was growing up and I believe it is important to pass it on to my family.
One of my family’s favorite restaurants is the KYMA Greek Cuisine located in downtown Somerville, New Jersey opposite the Historic Courthouse. Christos Stamataros is the owner/operator of this restaurant. His family hails from the island of Karpathos, Greece. The menu features the Greek cuisine favorites in a beautiful setting with outdoor dining. I have gotten to know him and his dedicated staff quite well since we dine there regularly. In addition to good food in a comfortable atmosphere, Christos will join us at our table and even other customers in conversation for a period of time until the meal is served. This hospitality is an example of the “Philotimo” once again exhibited by many of the Greek-owned restaurants which make the dining experience much more pleasurable.
Although my lengthy working careers have not been in the food industry, I have a deep love and understanding of this great industry. It has assisted me greatly in having several successful careers. I worked for the New Jersey Court system for 29 years dealing with a diverse population from different cultures and backgrounds. Upon retiring from there I worked as a Professor of Criminal Justice for 20 years. I served on the New Jersey State Parole Board being appointed twice by a Governor. In this capacity, I interviewed over 7,000 incarcerated individuals from a variety of different cultures. All of these careers had a common theme-understanding human relations and interpersonal skills. These skills were clearly enhanced by my work experience in the food industry.
NB: Dr. John Paitakes is a Professor Emeritus, Seton Hall University. He also continues working as an Alternate on the New Jersey State Parole Board. He is available as a Criminal Justice Expert. He can be reached at [email protected].