The couple who runs the Lincoln Square Restaurant has a partnership not just in business, but also in life.
On April 30, Nick Katris, 71, and his wife, Maria, 68, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
At the same time, they marked a half-century business partnership that has lifted them from tough circumstances to financial security.
As their daughter, Effie Katris, 44, was growing up in Chicago, friends often asked her why her parents worked seven days a week, often more than 14 hours a day, she said.
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Nearly all farm families worked from sunrise to sunset seven days a week in Nestani, Greece — where he was born around the end of World War II, Nick Katris said.
At the age of 15, Nick Katris moved 8,000 miles to live with relatives in Melbourne, Australia, in 1960. Upon arrival, he worked in a factory during the day while attending night school to study English.
Two years after his arrival in Melbourne, Katris found work in the restaurant business and has remained in it for more than 54 years, he said.
In 1966, he met the woman who would become his life partner. Maria Katris and her family moved to Australia early that year from a small town near Kalamata, a port city of 69,000 on the southwest side of Greece.
The two married after a short courtship, had their first child, Kathy, a year later and worked together in Melbourne for the next four years.
In 1970, the couple brought their 3-year-old daughter to America to attend the summertime Chicago Fest celebration and visit his brother, who had just opened a new restaurant in the northern Chicago suburb of Gurnee.
But when the brother suffered a back injury that temporarily kept him from work, Nick and Maria Katris decided to delay their trip back to Australia for three months and run the brother’s business until he fully recovered.
Although there was an effort to have the family deported, the couple encountered a sympathetic immigration agent whose family had also fled Greece. When the agent offered to issue green cards to allow the couple to both stay and work in America, the family took him up on the offer.
Two more daughters, Effie and Gina, were born, and with assistance from his grateful brother, Nick Katris was eventually able to purchase his own restaurant.
By the late 1970s, Nick Katris was able to afford to take his family to Greece — for an entire summer, his daughter said.
“My dad rented a VW bug and took us to every church, archeology site, monastery and tourist site in Greece,” Effie Katris recalls. “We met every relative — all the way up to fifth and sixth cousins.”
But eventually, the family returned to Chicago and went back to work. Just as soon as all three daughters were old enough, Maria was back full-time with her husband.
There would be only one more major vacation during the next 35 years. It was a trip to see Maria Katris’ mother and brother in Melbourne in 2000.
However, the long hours and hard work earned the admiration of cousin George Katris, who encouraged the couple to form a business venture with him involving his chain of Lincoln Square Restaurants in the Indianapolis area.
After agreeing, Nick Katris made his first trip to Columbus to examine a restaurant property at 2315 Jonathan Moore Pike.
It was owned by Dimitris Adamopoulos, another native of Greece who had also operated a Chicago restaurant for several years before purchasing the former Waffle House on Columbus’ west side in 1998.
Katris didn’t have to think twice about the property, which had housed both the Riviera and Dimitris restaurants under Adamopoulos’ management.
Within half a day, the sale was finalized and the 14th Lincoln Square restaurant opened in Columbus on Nov. 2, 2011.
For the first three years, the couple followed the same work schedule seven days a week.
After arriving shortly 5 a.m., they worked until after the lunch crowd subsided, took a few hours off in the afternoon, returned to serve the dinner crowd, and stayed until closing, Maria Katris said.
But after daughter Effie, a trained gemologist and business coach, came to Columbus to help her parents, her parents began to relax their work schedule.
Nick and Maria Katris also began to enjoy more free time following a business decision to close the restaurant at 4 p.m.
Confident in their daughter’s managerial skills, it’s now not unusual for the couple to take advantage of the nightlife in downtown Columbus or make occasional excursions to Brown County, Nick Katris said.
While they are even known to take a few days off here and there to visit grandchildren in both Milwaukee and Indianapolis, neither are willing to consider the idea of retirement.
“I can stay home for just a couple of days, but then I can’t stand the house,” Maria Katris said. “I have to come to work or go somewhere.”
When asked what keeps him working, Nick Katris didn’t hesitate to say it was his fondness for his customers.
“My Dad, who has a lot of close relationships with people in the community, sits and talks with many of them,” Effie Katris said. “We know the names and families of a lot of elderly customers, and we take care of them.”
“As long as I have my health and I feel good, I want to keep working,” Nick Katris said.
When asked how she has successfully both worked and lived with her husband for a half century, Maria Katris cited compromise and patience as the two necessary qualities.
“You love each other – respect each other – and trust each other,” she said.
Like many other couples who successfully work and live together, Maria Katris said it’s also important that each spouse maintains separate responsibilities at both home and work.
While agreeing, Nick Katris cited other important qualities, such as always telling the truth to your spouse without resorting to angry outbursts.
“If you are upset, you are better off going away for a while,” Nick Katris said. “Nobody is right all the time, everybody makes mistakes, and you have to be able to apologize.”
Greek immigrants are more likely to be small-business owners than immigrants from any other country.
According to a report from the Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research Initiative, there are 75,000 Greek immigrants in the U.S. labor force.
Sixteen percent are small-business owners, topping immigrants from Israel at 13 percent, Syria at 12 percent, and Iran at 12 percent.
Many who came to the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s found their calling in the restaurant industry. Today, there are 3,100 Greek restaurants in the U.S.
But that would only account for a fraction of the small businesses. Greeks also opened dry-cleaning services, florist shops, produce stores and coffee shops, according to government research.
Source: Aug. 27, 2014 edition of the Atlantic magazine.