Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

NICHOLAS GEORGE LOLOS – HIS LIFE and TIMES
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NICHOLAS GEORGE LOLOS – HIS LIFE and TIMES

Nicholas George Lolos
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The following piece was written by Julie Anne Knappert when she was a student at Cashmere Middle School in Cashmere, Washington, and appeared in THE CONFLUENCE, the quarterly publication of the North Central Washington Museum in the spring of 1990.  The paper was a 1988 Corps of Discovery Medal Winner.  Julie’s bibliography indicates she utilized various sources of information including personal recollections of Nick Lolos gathered through interviews with family members as well as quotes from a 1972 Wenatchee World article, “Hardship to Success for Lolos” by Charles Kerr. Her article was donated to the Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State by her uncle, Bill Lolos, of Wenatchee, Washington.

Julie’s introduction to the story follows here. “I chose to write about Nicholas George Lolos for my Corps of Discovery project because I wanted to learn all I could about this man. Everyone who had known him spoke of him with such admiration.  Bill Lolos, my Uncle, was brought to the United States from Greece (in 1952) by this caring man who loved his family dearly. Nick Lolos established The Cottage Inn restaurant in Wenatchee which is currently operated by my aunt and uncle, Florence and Bill Lolos.  In writing this paper, I have discovered the heart and soul of a dearly loved person. I have learned that by hard work and endurance, one can reach a goal no matter how hard the climb. I only wish Papou (grandfather) had lived longer, so that I could have met him and said, ‘Yes, I knew this remarkable man.’”

LIFE IN GREECE

 

Nicholas Lolos and his new bride, the former Blenda Estella Jernberg. They were married December 27, 1916, in Salt Lake City. (Andy & Joanne Lolos photo)Nicholas George Lolos was born to George and Angelikie “Koula” Lolos on September 12, 1884. He was the first of their 14 children who were born in a small village near Nemea, Greece, just outside Corinth. His parents were farmers. They grew everything their family needed including wheat, goats, sheep, chickens, hogs and rabbits. The only things they bought were cloth for their clothing, which they sewed themselves, and medicine. The family even grew their own olives and made their own olive oil.

Shown here are Nicholas Lolos and his new bride, the former Blenda Estella Jernberg. They were married December 27, 1916, in Salt Lake City. (Andy & Joanne Lolos photo)

Each village house had a shed for livestock; it sometimes was a shelter under the house itself. Within the house, an icon (religious painting) could always be found hanging on a wall, a tiny lighted lamp beneath it. Nick and his family were Greek Orthodox and went to church every Sunday. The main source of income for the Lolos family came from raising grapes for wine and raising grapes for raisins. Raisin grapes were hung in bunches on wires or spread on the ground in the sun to dry. As they dried, the bunches were turned over for even drying. They were ready to be packed and stored when the raisins fell off the stems. The family would then sell the raisins.

Nick’s family also made and sold their own wine. To make wine, they stomped the grapes with their feet in a cement-type vat. Two or three people would work in the vat at one time. The juice was put into large kegs and left to ferment about 40 to 45 days. Then the kegs were sealed with pine pitch. Villagers would come with their own containers and buy wine in whatever quantity they wanted by tapping it from the large sealed kegs. This helped earn income for the family.

Life was hard for the villagers. In Greece at that time, working the farm was more important than obtaining an education. School was not required and Nick had not been taught to read or write his own native language.

DREAM OF A BETTER LIFE

It was a dream held by those that had or who could borrow the passage money to go to the United States, earn what would be a small fortune in the old country, and then return home to open a business, thereby upgrading their standard of living. In 1903, at the age of 18, Papou boarded a ship for the United States. He arrived in New York unable to speak, write or understand English. He had no relatives in the United States but he had big dreams and boundless energy.  Traveling from Greece to Chicago by boat and train cost Nick 600 drachmas, about $8O in United States currency at that time. This was quite a bit of money to pay in those days. An interpreter in Chicago dickered with the Great Northern Railroad for their services. Nick and his fellow countrymen were loaded out of Chicago like cattle on the Great Northern Railroad which would later become the Burlington Northern. The men were hauled out to Washington State and distributed amongst the railroad section crews.

EARLY RAILROAD LIFE

According to an interview, it required hand tools, strong backs and about one man per mile to maintain the railroad in the early railroad years.  The destination for Nick Lolos was Malaga, Washington, where he began his first job on the section crew as a “gandy-dancer” (laborer). This job required laying and repairing new railroad lines.  “The crew lived like rats,” Nick recalled. They worked shifts of six to ten hours for nine dollars a week. They had to do their own bachelor housekeeping before and after work. The crew also had to manage their own cooking. On Sundays, the men washed their clothes and mended their clothing and shoes.  Being the youngest in the section gang, he was sent on all the errands.  As a result, he was exposed to the English language and within a year was able to understand and speak enough English to get by.

A LETTER NEVER MAILED

Nick communicated with his family in Greece through Greek acquaintances who would write letters for him since he could only speak Greek and was unable to read or write the Greek language.  On one occasion, an educated Greek buddy wrote a letter for Nick to his mother and gave the letter to Papou to mail.  Papou had another person read it before he mailed it. In the letter written by his “buddy,” it stated that Nick had come to the United States and had become an alcoholic and a bum. Nick tore up the letter and vowed never to have anyone else write to his mother again. He would write the letter himself. Papou took it upon himself to learn to read and write both the Greek and the English language. Nick was challenged and determined to learn both.

HARD WORK–LITTLE PAY

Nick and his co-workers would work hard all summer only to be laid off in the fall. He used up his meager earnings to keep alive until work began again in the spring. Nick said, “I would have gone back home if only l had the fare. Working people were much better off there than we were on that section gang,” he stated.  Since he was the youngest of the section gang, he was also delegated much of the cooking for the crew. He learned to bake bread the hard way.  By trial and error, Nick discovered that it required yeast. He remembered seeing his mother bake unleavened bread in the old country so, as he attempted to repeat what he remembered, he experienced some failures learning to bake the type of bread that was expected in the United States.

CITY TO CITY FOR BETTER WORK

It was common for railroad workers to move on when jobs became scarce. After Nick quit the section gang, he found a better job building track for a Tacoma, Washington, streetcar system earning $1.75 per day, less 10 cents for hospitalization.  Later he earned $2.00 per day and, following a strike, his salary became $2.25.  In Tacoma he also worked laying brick streets.  While living in Portland, Oregon, in 1910, Nick developed his “different” approach to the restaurant business.  He began by working a split shift of 12 to 15 hours a day as a café dishwasher making a salary of $l0.00 a week.  Nick was uncertain about his employer’s suggestion that he move into a second cook position, but he did and began by preparing toast, eggs and hotcakes. He earned $12.00 per week for this 12-hour shift. However, a new owner took over the restaurant and brought in a new crew and Nick subsequently lost his job. Nick then went into another cafeteria working as a vegetable cook. For a year he also prepared the “free” lunch which a saloon provided with its five-cent beers.  Finally, an even better job came Nick’s way and he was hired by the railroad as a train cook working between Spokane, Washington, and Portland. He earned $6.00 per day.  Following this job with the railway, Nick took a position as a pantry man/prep cook in Spokane at the Davenport Hotel and Restaurant.  After Nick left Spokane, he operated a railroad beanery at Marcus, Washington, and then a pool hall in this Stevens County town. At that time, Marcus was the railroad center for the state of Washington. The pool hall was Nick’s first business. Nick told a story about how he once fell asleep during a slack time at the pool hall. While he was sleeping, some of his friends tip-toed out the door with the cash register. Of course, they did it as a joke and later returned the register.

BLENDA ESTELLA JERNBERG

While he was living in Marcus, Nick met a young woman, Blenda 2 IN GREECEEstella Jernberg, at a dance. Blenda was one of seven girls and she had no brothers. She was of Swedish descent but was born in America. Blenda’s family lived in Marcus.  The pool hall was not a prosperous venture and in 1916 Nick moved on to Mackay, Idaho, where he once again found restaurant work. He operated a dining room and he quickly learned how many problems an employer has finding and keeping good help. He netted $1,000 working this dining room.  While in Idaho, Nick corresponded with Blenda. He even proposed marriage through the mail.  Blenda’s parents decided the best thing for her would be to marry Nick. They packed her bags and put her on the train to join Nick in Idaho. Nick arranged for the two of them to go to Salt Lake City, Utah, to be married on December 27, 1916. After the wedding, they returned to Mackay, Idaho, for a brief time.

Above  is a 1920 photo taken in Greece.  Eldest and youngest sons Nick and Andy George Lolos, only survivors of 14 children, with parents Koula and George. Nick was not actually there, but had a clever photographer insert his photo to make the family picture complete. (Bill & Florence Lolos photo)
 

THE ROUGH LIFE OF FARMING

After having experienced so much trouble with the employees at the dining room in Mackay, Nick and Blenda decided to try farming with her father in Marcus. They moved into a cabin on the Jernberg farm and worked hard raising fruit and vegetables for the market.  At the end of the growing season, Nick packed a load of watermelons on the train and went from town to town trying to sell them.  Nick was unable to sell the watermelons and discovered the farm did not earn enough money to support two families. The total income for a year’s work only amounted to $8O.  Even so, they stuck it out for two years. The second year there was a drought and, since there was no irrigation, they lost everything.

MOVING ON ONCE AGAIN

After leaving the farm, Nick and his family moved to Aberdeen, Washington, where, once again, Nick got a job as a cook.  When Papou moved to Aberdeen, he and Blenda had been married for three years and they had two children.  Nick’s job as a cook kept the Lolos family in Aberdeen for about four years.  Wherever Nick worked, he put in long hours to support the family.  Blenda stayed at home to rear the children properly, as was expected in those days.  In 1923, the Lolos family decided to move to Ellensburg, Washington.  On the way to Ellensburg, they stopped at a roadside fruit stand to buy fruit for the children. While Nick was buying fruit, the proprietor of the stand asked him if he wanted the fruit stand.  Papou said that he had no money and couldn’t afford to buy it.  The proprietor said he would give the fruit stand to Papou if he would just run it.  Papou decided to give it a try and worked the stand for a couple of weeks.  However, there was no money to be made, and he was unable to earn enough there to feed the children. He closed the stand and moved on to Ellensburg where he worked at the New York Cafe for about one and one-half years.

ON TO WENATCHEE

Papou moved his family to Wenatchee in 1925, where he picked apples and worked on the streets.  He did anything he could to keep the family fed. He also worked as a cook at the King Tut Restaurant and then Polison’s Cafe. Nick and Blenda’s family was complete with the birth of their fifth child in 1926 while they were living in Wenatchee.  Nick and Blenda had three boys—George, Pete and Andy—and two girls—Elaine and Agnes.  In the early 193Os the American economy was beginning to go downhill and depression was a hard reality.  As a result, business was poor and Polison laid off most of his employees.  After being laid off, Nick took a giant, risky step and began his first restaurant, The Owl Cafe.  The building no longer exists but it was located on Wenatchee Avenue across from where the Columbia Ice and Cold Storage plant is located today.

(The brick building which once housed the Columbia Ice and Cold Storage plant at 309 S. Wenatchee Avenue is being demolished at this time…winter 1989-90). Ed. note.

Women who worked at the Columbia Ice and Cold Storage would come across the street to the restaurant not to eat but to get warm. Nick would open his oven doors and let them warm their hands and feet before they went back across the street to work.  Nick and Blenda worked long and hard in their Owl Cafe. When their lease expired, they opened their second restaurant called The Tavern.  An outstanding feature of The Tavern was its huge soda fountain. The restaurant did quite well; however, the Lolos family lost the lease when Montgomery Ward came to Wenatchee and bought the building which housed their restaurant.  Not to be discouraged, Nick and Blenda moved south, down the avenue, and began the Empire Grill.  Times were tough, but no customer was ever refused. Some customers just signed their tickets, with a promise to pay when they found work. Many of those accounts were never paid, yet somehow through much hard work and determination Nick and Blenda survived.

THE COTTAGE INN

3 Sunnyslope homeIn 1940 the lease expired on the building that housed the Empire Grill.  Nick was finished with renting and leasing and scraped up $100 down payment on a home and acreage at Sunnyslope, Washington. The land he purchased was a homestead belonging to the Gahringer family.  The same year Nick pulled out some of the orchard near the house to make room to build a little restaurant the family could call their very own.  This was the beginning of The Cottage Inn.

Above photo – Nick and Blenda purchased this Sunnyslope home on the Gahringer homestead in 1940 with $100 down. (Addition at left was built by present owners, Bill and Florence Lolos).

When Papou wanted to open a restaurant so far from town, people told him he was crazy. Papou tried to buy a grill from Frank Rooney, who operated a Wenatchee Avenue restaurant. Mr.  Rooney told Papou he would go broke way out there and would not sell him the grill unless Papou could pay cash for it.  So Papou paid Mr. Rooney cash for the grill and opened The Cottage Inn in 1940.  Papou was a very determined and strong individual despite the hardships he experienced. He was determined to make a success of The Cottage Inn though the odds seemed to be against him.  By putting in long hours and much hard work, he was successful.

Through the years Nick had become a master chef.  Since meat was truly his specialty, it was only natural that he open a dinner restaurant specializing in chicken and steak.  He served the first “French fries” in the valley which he fried in a pan on the grill. He also created the first “chicken fried steak” which is now a standard item on many restaurant menus.  Blenda handled the management of the dining room and the cash register, while Nick ran the kitchen. As the children grew up in Wenatchee, they too worked at The Cottage Inn washing dishes.

IN TOUCH WITH GREECE AGAIN

It was not until 1948 that Papou wrote his first letter home to Greece since coming to this country when he had to write through interpreters. He wanted to know how everyone fared after the war. His family wrote back that all his brothers and sisters were dead.  Some had died of illness, and others of complications involving childbirth.  Andy George Lolos, the brother who was just three weeks old when Nick left Greece, had been executed by the Germans in 1944.  Andy George Lolos had been the last of the living Lolos children in Nick’s Greek family. Andy George Lolos had reared his own family in the old family home where Nick was born and which was also occupied by their mother.  Once the family discovered that Nick could communicate with them, they wrote back.  Papou helped them by sending clothes which they desperately needed. He even sent them a mule from the States, so they were better able to work the farm. He sent the mule on a ship.  The journey took about six months.  The family of Andy George Lolos (Papou’s youngest brother) consisted of six children. Nine people—the children, parents, and Papou’s mother—were living in the three-room house. After this first letter home in 1948 and throughout the remainder of his life, Nick continued to help his Greek family by sending them necessities.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

Nick and Blenda operated The Cottage Inn until 1948.  Then Nick leased it to Howard Inabnit, who4 NICK,KOULA BILL 1968 managed it for two years then left to open his own restaurant in Cashmere, Washington.  Nick and Blenda operated the restaurant for another eight years until 1958.  During those years, as if his own family responsibilities were not enough, Nick brought three of Andrew George Lolos’ children to the United States from Greece. Two of the children, nephew, Bill A. Lolos, and niece, Koula Lolos, came to the United States in 1952.  Another niece, Kikie Lolos, came to the United States in 1968.  In 1958 Howard Inabnit once again leased The Cottage Inn and operated it until 1973, with the exception of one year when it was managed by Andy Lolos, one of Papou’s sons.  In 1962 Nick lost his wife, and in 1969 his daughter Agnes died of multiple sclerosis. During the forties, his oldest son, George, had died of injuries received in an accident while he was working in the shipyards.

Above photo -Nick Lolos with niece Koula, and nephew, Bill, upon their 1952 arrival in Wenatchee from Greece. Nick sponsored the two children of his youngest brother Andy George, and brought another niece, Kikie, to the United States in 1968. (Bill & Florence Lolos Photo).

 

RETURN TO GREECE

In April of 1972, Nick Lolos made his first return visit to Greece in 69 years. At the time he was a healthy and hearty 88-year old. On this trip he traveled with his nephew Bill, Bill’s wife Florence, and niece, Kikie.  They traveled back to the old country at a very festive time of the year in Greece.  The Greek Orthodox Church, to which Nick and his Greek family belonged, looked forward to the Easter season every year. Easter was the most important celebration in the church with special services beginning on Good Friday and continuing through Easter Sunday.  The Monday following Easter was part of the Easter holiday as well. Each family would butcher a lamb and roast it outdoors on a spit over charcoal-filled trenches. They would also have mageritsa (Easter soup), bread, red colored eggs, feta cheese and wine, as well as all sorts of delicate desserts.

THE COTTAGE INN IN THE FAMILY5 PHOTO FROM WEB httpwww.graphicone.comportfolio.html

Photo of The Cottage Inn from the internet at www.graphicone.comportfolio.com

In 1973, when Howard Inabnit retired, Bill (the nephew Papou had brought from Greece) and his wife, Florence Grentz Lolos, leased the restaurant from Papou.  After Papou’s death in 1976 at the age of 91, Bill and Florence purchased The Cottage Inn and are still operating it today.  It was not just his “good cooking” that made Nick so special. It was not just that this man taught himself to speak, read, write and type in both English and Greek that made him so special. What made Nick Lolos special was his love for his family. He was proud that two of his sons had earned college educations.  He always said, “If I would have had a college education, I could have been a millionaire or a bum.” Nick loved his country, the United States of America. He would cut short a vacation so he could vote.  He kept himself informed on all the family and local and national events.  Yes, Nick Lolos was indeed special. He was a credit to two countries. He passed away in Wenatchee in 1976, a sad time indeed for family and friends alike.  Nick Lolos will always be remembered for his gentle and generous ways.

PHOTOS from Lolos family collection and www.graphicone.comportfolio.com
SOURCES
THE CONFLUENCE – Quarterly publication of North Central Washington Museum, Vol.7, No. 1, Spring, 1990