By John Morton
Alex Kouvatsos always made his presence felt. However, when he joined his son Tom at Siesta Key’s Village Café as a “retiree” in 2008, he had to find a way to fit in to a certain extent.
“When he first arrived, he would pound his fist on the table when he wanted to make a point,” daughter-in-law Kay Kouvatsos, who with husband, Tom, own the laid-back diner in the heart of the Village. “We were already 10 years in, and we it was a different world here. We had to tell him, ‘We’ll do things our way, please.’
“He was one stubborn, intense, little old man. We loved it.”
So set in his ways, in fact, he scheduled himself for work seven days a week when he joined his son’s business.
“The joke was always how, when he found out I served only breakfast and lunch, he called that a Greek half-day,” Tom Kouvatsos said of his father. “That meant, in his mind, that I was lazy.
“But my dad was a worker. That was the immigrant generation. Working was his passion, his love. It’s all he knew. He came over from Greece as a teenager, already with a strong work ethic.”
Alex Kouvatsos died Dec. 17 at the age of 89 from heart failure.
As it turned out he did find a way to fit in at the café, where for 14 years he served as a maître d’ of sorts by greeting guests as they walked in.
“He had just had to be in a restaurant,” said Kay of her father-in-law, who operated as many as eight Greek eateries in both upstate New York and Long Island. “At first, we tried him in the kitchen, but that didn’t work. Then expediting, but that was too much for him.
“Finally, we found the perfect spot for him – up front. Most people figured he owned the place by the way he carried himself, and we let the world think that.”
Alex Kouvatsos found other outlets for his endless energy, being among the originals to establish a booth at the Siesta Key Farmers Market when it debuted in 2010. Sandwiches, spinach pie, and coffee to go were the highlights of his Sunday morning offerings.
Last month, his slot was rented to someone else as the café bid farewell to the booth. Alex was the last of the original lineup of vendors.
“No one could replace him and what he meant to the market,” Kay said.
Toward the end, even the man they called Papou found a way to scale back just a bit. And, true to form, he was too proud to ask for a little down time. So, he did it his way.
“All of a sudden, he stopped showing up on Tuesdays. Just like that, without a word,” Tom said with a laugh. “I asked him at first if he had doctors’ appointments, or something like that. He said no. And there he’d be again, back in on Wednesday.
“That was his way of getting a day off.”