Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

Building a Greek House
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BUILDING A GREEK HOUSE

Philip and Seane Feredinos tell their children that they love them from here to God and back again. They have combined that love, their Greek and Irish backgrounds and their restaurant experiences to create a very fulfilling life for themselves and to ensure an enjoyable environment for their customers.

PHILIP’S STORY

Philipos (Philip) Feredinos was born in Athens, Greece, on March 2, 1952. He grew up in the Makrygianni district, just 200 yards from the Acropolis near Plaka in the center of Athens. The Feredinos name is somewhat unusual, coming from his father’s village of Feredinata above Argostoli on the Greek island of Kephalonia. Centuries ago it was known to be a hiding place for pirates with an Italian influence.

Philip’s father, Georgos (1912-1992), left the island at the age of 12 and traveled by train to begin his life in Athens. There he worked in restaurants and ultimately owned three kafenia (coffee houses). Philip describes his father as a very kind, polite and hard-working man. Panagiota, Philip’s mother, was born in Agrinion, Greece. She was a seamstress by trade who had up to 17 women working for her and made dresses for nightclub singers and performers. They used old treadle-foot sewing machines, scissors and irons to make costumes for customers, often with very short notice. Philip, then a cute little boy with blond, curly hair, remembers French singers and dancers who would bring him chocolates. Panagiota was born in 1924 and, as she approaches her 94th birthday, lives by herself in Athens and is in excellent health. She and Philip speak regularly by telephone.

Philip’s older brother, Dimitrios, was one of the top ten attorneys in Athens. Dimitrios became ill with cancer and passed away at the relatively young age of 57. Dimitrios’ two children also live in Athens and help look after their yiayia (grandmother) Panagiota.

Philip attended gymnasio (high school) in the Plaka neighborhood of Athens and entered the army in 1973. His enlistment was extended to two and one-half years during the war in Cyprus. He was very active in the army, serving first in an artillery unit in Corinth, in Thiva (Thebes) as a sergeant, in northern Greece near Veria, then in Athens and again in Thiva in charge of the entrance to the army base there. When the Cyprus war began, his unit was divided and he was assigned near the Yugoslavian border. There he spent seven very cold months in a one-man tent in the mountains. While very difficult, he values the survival and obedience skills he learned and that the Army experience gave him time to think of who he was and what he wanted to be. Philip’s desire to become a pilot may have kept him in Greece where Aristotle Onassis’ son, Alexander, oversaw a program to train pilots in Great Britain. Philip had been accepted into the program when Alexander was killed in a helicopter accident and the program ended.

His desire to become a pilot was also the reason for immigrating to the United States where an uncle in New York sponsored him. He left Greece with a small suitcase and $300 which was all the Greek government would allow to be taken out of the country. After some time acclimating in New York, he traveled west to attend the California Flying Center in San Jose, California. He found a studio apartment for $185 per month but did not have enough for the deposit or last-month’s rent. Fortunately, his landlady allowed him to make payments on those requirements. When he earned some money, and was tired of sleeping on the floor, the landlady directed him to an Army surplus store to buy a mattress. When he unwrapped it and laid on it with little comfort, he discovered he had purchased the box spring, something unknown to him in Greece. This incident had his landlady rolling on the floor in laughter.

In San Jose Philip earned his private pilot’s license but the cost of obtaining his commercial and instrumental credentials was becoming too expensive for him even though he was working part time as a bus boy. He also attended Foothills College studying maintenance management of turbo engines. Even with 380 hours of flying experience, the possibility of becoming a commercial pilot was almost impossible as the airlines preferred experienced military pilots.

He knew no one when he arrived in San Jose but happened to visit the Balkan Village, a Greek-owned restaurant. When the bartender at the restaurant realized Philip was more than a “just off the boat” immigrant, the bartender made a phone call to a wealthy Greek from Kavala, Greece, who owned an upscale restaurant in nearby Los Altos, California. Phillip went to work the following day.

Despite studying English in Greece, Philip was not prepared for the slang and rapid speech he encountered. On one occasion he bought Brylcreem, the men’s hair dressing instead of toothpaste. At work as a waiter when a customer asked for a “doggie bag,” Philip replied that they had no dogs there. And, when another customer ordered buttermilk, he brought a glass of milk and some butter on a plate. He was afraid he would be fired but he had an understanding boss. When he served a bottle of champagne, the cork shot out and the champagne squirted across the room. Philip did not know he was supposed to share his tips with the bartender who shook the bottle before passing it on to Philip. He quickly learned the restaurant business from these experiences.

Philip discovered that he was becoming a very good waiter. For a while he worked at El Pescadore, a rather expensive seafood restaurant. During that time he met another Greek, Nick Thomapapadimitrakopoulos. Even as a Greek, Philip had difficulty pronouncing the name and he persuaded the man to change his name to Nick Thomas, and he did. Thomas was the general manager of Sebastian’s, a four-star restaurant on the 17th floor of an office tower in San Jose where Philip began as a waiter and worked his way up to maître d. It was there he hired his future wife even though he was unaware that fraternizing with the help was not a good idea.

SEANE’S STORY

Seane Michelle Feredinos was born in 1965 in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Hers is a Gaelic name with family lineage from Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Her parents were always into food: her mother a chef and her father a maître d. Before Seane was born they had a delicatessen in Saddlebrook, New Jersey, called the Three Little Pigs. Seane describes her mother as very intelligent, outgoing and more like a “beatnik.” In 1967 the family moved to Las Vegas where her father worked at Caesar’s Palace and mother worked at the Desert Inn where the reclusive owner Howard Hughes lived in the penthouse.

At two years of age, Seane fell into a swimming pool and was saved only when her mother jumped over a chain link fence, cutting her arms in the process. To give thanks, her aunt found the closest church, a Greek Orthodox Church, where she lit a candle, converted and had Seane baptized. As one of few Irish/Greek Orthodox, she believes this was an omen for her relationship with Philip.

The family moved back to New Jersey in 1971, then returned to Las Vegas when Seane was ten years old. Her mother had divorced and was now married to a man who was a paramedic and employed with the Bureau of Land Management, a position that took the family to Doyle, California. At age 18, Seane was working at the Ames Research Center numbering films in its photo technology department. Bored with that position, she tried the nursing field but was soon back in her familiar venue, a restaurant. There she met Philip in the elevator who later made her nervous with his constant glances and attention. She first thought he was making fun of her or she was doing something wrong. After an evening of work and sharing a meal with other employees, Philip walked her to her car and suddenly kissed her. She was surprised and excited by this shorter version of the actor Tom Selleck. Three months later, around Thanksgiving in 1985, he proposed and they were married in Greece on August 15, 1986. Seane knew it was right both because she was Greek Orthodox and because her pet goat’s name was Sebastian, the same as the restaurant where they met.

At that time, Sebastian’s was closing and Philip began working at the Red Lion Hotel in San Jose. They had purchased a travel trailer, deciding where their next home would be as Philip was trying to transfer to the red Lion in Sacramento, California, where Seane’s mother lived. Seane was pregnant with their first child, Dimitri. Philip also continued to visit with his two children, Kathleen and Richard from his previous marriage. Philip was commuting to San Jose when Dimitri was born on September 27, 1987, and missed the actual birth. Dimitri lives nearby in Kent, Washington, with his wife Amanda and their daughter, Vesper Rose. Alexis, born in 1989, and his wife Jenna live in Tacoma, Washington, with their son. The older children, Kathleen and her daughter Eleni and Richard with children James, Athena, Maxima and Lucas live in Bend and Salem, Oregon, respectively.

The Red Lion management was pleased with his work and Philip was offered a promotion at either Bakersfield, or Costa Mesa, California, or Portland, Oregon. Fond of the Oregon coast, they chose Portland even though the location was very close to the nearby corporate offices, a situation that could be stifling. Despite the warnings, they moved to Oregon where Philip’s Red Lion restaurant and lounge in the Lloyd Center complex later received the highest rating out of 1300 properties in the chain. It was one of only two that received the AAA (American Automobile Association) “four diamond” award, the other being the upscale Salishan resort on the Oregon coast. His next position was as food manager with the Red Lion (now the Doubletree) at SeaTac, Washington, with 280 employees and over $12 million in revenue. After six years his position was discontinued and he transferred to the Hilton at SeaTac as food and beverage manager from which he retired in 2012 after 25 years with the company.

During a trip to Greece Philip decided his dream was to open his own restaurant. Seane was busy raising their children, selling the travel trailer and their home in California while managing the apartment where they lived in Midway, Washington. With the help of a Greek realtor, they found a space in Burien, Washington, a former pet store, near SeaTac airport. That Greek friend also helped Philip purchase their home in Renton, Washington, without Seane’s knowledge. Despite its run-down condition at the time, the location and property size have been a good investment. Seane describes Philip and herself as having “A-type” personalities. They “gutted” both the home and the pet store and have remodeled both. The Greek House décor was Seane’s doing and Philip took responsibility for the menu and food preparation. Now in its fourth year of operation, the Greek House is the only Greek-themed restaurant in Seattle’s south King County. Seane is working on bottling a house dressing which will be called Nota’s Greek Vinaigrette. Recently Philip and Seane began a contract with the Boeing Company and Microsoft where they deliver and serve food items from the restaurant for employees of those companies. Seane describes this catering project as a second restaurant without the overhead expenses.

AFTERTHOUGHTS

Philip is grateful for the positive way he has been treated in the United States. He values his heritage and has passed it on to his children although by working many hours he has not been able to teach them as much Greek as he would like. They know the “basic stuff” including a few “bad” words. Seane speaks Greek very well. Philip has several very colorful Greek sayings. One of his favorites is voutixe ti glossa sou sto mialo sou prin milisis (dip your tongue in your brain before you speak). Another is kane kalo kai rixeto sto yialo (do something good and throw it into the ocean or don’t make a big deal of it). And, opos estroses tha kimithis (the way you make the bed is the way you sleep).

Philip came to the United States with $300 and a small suitcase and has done very well for himself. He and Seane believe that if you are not lazy and are willing to work hard you can be successful and that the results are much more satisfying than if things are simply handed to you. They both wish to be remembered for loving their family and entertaining others.

By John and Joann Nicon,  May 2018
VIDEO SEGMENTS
PHOTOS
1 Philip and Seane, 2017
2 Georgos and Panagiota wedding, circa 1945
3 Georgos and Panagiota, 1980
4 Panagiota, Philip and Dimitri, 1954
5 Philip, Dimitri, Thanasis, late 1960s
6 Philip in the Army, 1973
7 Philip and Dmitri, 1973
8 Philip at Sebastian’s, 1982
9 Philip, 1985
10 Philip and Seane in Greece, 1986
11 Seane, Philip, Kathleen, Richard, 1986
12 OREGONIAN article, 1989
13 Feredinos family, (l-r) Dimitri, Philip, Richard, Seane, Kathleen, Alexis, 2002
14 Kathleen, Richard, Dimitri, Alexis, 1995
15 The Greek House, 2016
16 Panagiota and Philip, 2012
17 Philips “Rules to Serve By,” undated
Photo 1 by John Nicon, all others from Feredinos family collection
SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, November 2017