In the 1900s many Greeks found financial success in the food and beverage businesses. Spiro “Spin” Nicon’s entrepreneurial skills, honesty and friendly personality made him one of those Greeks in Seattle.
Spiro was born on the Island of Leros, Greece, on October 1, 1911. In 1920 his parents and four siblings left Greece for Seattle, his father having lived there previously. Unfortunately, Spiro had an eye infection and had to stay behind with his brother Nick and came to Seattle through Canada a year later with another family from Leros. Speaking no English, Spiro began kindergarten at Cascade Elementary School at the age of 10. Spiro quickly advanced and eventually completed one term at Broadway High School before going to work.
Because he had a bicycle he worked as a messenger taking items from Cascade school to the central office in downtown Seattle. For a while he worked in a confectionery and at 17 he began working in the Royal Bakery that supplied bread to Safeway stores from Portland to Bellingham. When Safeway opened its own bakery he worked there as a clerk and eventually a driver, covering the area from Olympia to Bellingham, until the age of 36.
Having visited his koumbaro’s (his best man) tavern several times, Spiro decided to open his own tavern called Spin’s Friendly Tavern on Fairview Avenue North. Why Spin’s? Years before while working at Safeway when he signed his name on a receiving slip, a vendor interpreted the name as Spin since the “r” and “o” in Spiro had run together on the signature. The name stuck for the rest of his life.
With punchboards, pinball machines, beer and wine, and naval personnel at nearby Lake Union, the tavern was an instant success. He bought the property and added a tavern/restaurant building soon thereafter. He sold the business in 1951. This pattern of building a business and selling it for other opportunities had been established.
Spin worked for his brother-in-law at the Lotus Café in downtown Seattle for 2 years and then opened “Spin’s Café and Broiler” at 2nd and Pine in 1953. After another success, he sold that business in 1956 and purchased property at Boren and Mercer.
Next, he formed a partnership to develop a coffee shop in the Lee Hotel in Enumclaw, Washington. His partner eventually bought the Lee Hotel as well and purchased Spin’s share a year later.
While vacationing in Las Vegas, Spin learned of a tavern for sale at Third and James in Seattle. He contacted Spiro Xenos, also from Leros, who had worked at the Lotus Cafe about partnering in the new business. Xenos said, “Take my son instead” and Manuel Xenos became Spin’s partner at Spin’s Friendly Tavern for the next 9 years. Spin, his namesake grandson Spyridon and his son John celebrated Spyridon’s 21st birthday at the tavern.
After selling his share of the tavern Spin had what he called “his best job ever” as beer steward for the Seattle Pilots, a one-year stand. He would set up all the stations, make sure supplies were adequate, and watch the home games. During away games, he could relax. When the franchise moved to Milwaukee he was offered, but refused an opportunity to work with the concession owners in Omaha, Nebraska.
For a short time Spiro tried his luck at real estate. However, he was too honest, usually telling prospective buyers the worst parts of a building as well as the best. He did purchase property on Eastlake Avenue, which was leased for an apartment building and eventually traded for a building that bears his name to this date.
Spin officially retired at the age of 54. In his retirement of nearly 30 years, he worked as the sextant for the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Seattle, traveled several times to Greece, drove cross country 21 times to visit his daughter and family in Boston, and enjoyed his family in Seattle. Spin died in Seattle in 1994 at the age of 83.By John Nicon, March 2011 PHOTOS
1 Spin at work
2 Nicon family – Spiro, Clara, Faye, John
3 Spin’s Friendly Tavern on Fairview Avenue North
4 Spin, Grandson Spyridon, and Son John at Spin’s Friendly Tavern, 3rd and James
All photos from the Nicon Family Collection SOURCES
Audio interviews by John Nicon, 1986; Seattle Times Obituary