Stavros Maillakakis, Plaka and Times Square Icon

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Stavros Maillakakis was a visionary. Years before there was a Times Square, the social hub of Fort Myers Beach, there was already a Plaka Restaurant, next door to Pete’s Time Out, just like today. Sadly, Stavros passed away on Monday, September 24.

“Dad was the most loyal person I ever met and the most selfless human being ever,” said son Steve, who now co-owns the Plaka Restaurant, having taken over Stavros share when he retired in 2001. “He was born in Greece, and his own father died young. Dad served in the Greek Army, then relocated to Australia to work, as it was his obligation to support the family, and he sent home every paycheck. He put his only brother through dental school and, in the Greek tradition, you not only did not marry before your sisters, but the Father built each daughter a house, and Dad had three sisters. He returned to Greece to construct each of my Aunts a home, so by the time he did all those things and was free to start his own life, he was already 45 years old.”

When Stavros fulfilled these responsibilities, he moved to the Bahamas, where he met then married his wife, Francine, in 1973. “He became a very successful General Manager for the Grand Bahama Catering Company,” related Steve, “including catering for the James Bond movie, ‘Thunderball,’ and The Beatles, ‘Help!’ Mom, however, wanted my brother Mikes and I educated in the United States, so in 1980, we moved to Southwest Florida, and shortly after that, Dad partnered with Emmanuelle Neskes on three restaurants, including Plaka that opened in 1981.”

Steve explained, “Manny and his wife, Nomiki, who remains my partner to this day, took a drive to Fort Myers Beach, loved the look of this area around the pier, and thought it would be a perfect restaurant location. This building was the home to ‘Top Shop,’ a little ‘paint-a-t-shirt’ shop, and one of the spray painters was John Lallo, whose father would start ‘Pete’s Time Out’ next door right around that same time, so that is how we all met! I was young then, and thought Fort Myers Beach awesome, especially around ‘Spring Break!’”

Generous Soul

There was, however, no Times Square! “The road still ran right through here for the first 6 or 7 years of the restaurant, and when Lee County first approached us about the concept, he hated it,” Steve recalled. “Dad did not like change, especially when the idea wasn’t his and he had no control. He did not like losing the visibility from the road, and we had several parking spots we had to give up, meaning you could not park here or drop people off directly in front, especially during rainy season. Lee County promised him on a handshake that he would never have to pay to have tables and chairs out front, but it did not turn out that simple, with conflicts over the years. Overall, though, in his heart, though he hated admitting it, he knew it turned out to be mostly a good thing!”

While recognized for his business ingenuity, Stavros was known for his generosity. “He would pick up and take home employees,” his son related. “We had a Russian employee in the early 1990s who had to return to take care of his family, the same way Dad did when he was young, and Dad handed him $500 that would be worth thousands today. He made significant contributions to construct a Greek hospital, donated tens of thousands to our church as he was a devout Christian, and adopted an African girl with support for over 18 years. Dad believed that you never said ‘No’ if you were in a position to say ‘Yes’; he was truly selfless.”

That generosity flowed to his own family. “Dad paid for my Finance degree and Mikes became a Chemical Engineer, and he made sure we each had a home in Greece. He basically became a father to my wife Jennifer, as her Dad passed away when she was young, so he saw a lot of what he went through in her, and she adored him! He arranged for us to not only get married in Greece, but surprised us by paying for everything, and had our children baptized there. Jennifer is amazing, because she took a back seat so often to allow me to spend so much time with Dad – she is an exceptional woman!”

Lead By Example

Although Steve took his place when Stavros retired, he did not begin as a partner. “Dad believed you led by example! When you saw him here, he dressed simply, like anyone else. Your coworkers need to see you bleed alongside them, and will not respect you unless you do the exact same jobs. As a result, I began as a dishwasher for years, then a cook for years more, so he made sure I served my apprenticeship for a long time. Even after retiring, he returned every Monday to check up on things and have coffee with me to offer the best advice, and that is probably the thing I miss most. He constantly stressed we should measure three times, then cut once, as that philosophy produces the best decisions. Think things through, and never react based solely on your emotions, and that the hardest decisions are usually the right ones.”

Should you come across Steve in the next month or so, you will notice he has a different look: “It is a tradition in our part of Greece that when you lose a loved one, for the next 40 days you dress in black and don’t shave! My beard is itching me like crazy right now, and Mikes is already wondering if he can make it through the entire time, but it is something you do out of respect, because no one ever had a greater role model or a better father.”

 

Gary Mooney