That’s how Eleni Malevitsis refers to her son Demetri as they share stories of immigrating to the United States and his 27 years in the restaurant business. Demetri (James) Georgos Malevitsis came to the United States with his mother and younger brother Paraskeva (Perry) in 1952.
The name Malevitsis might have had a Slavic origin. There are two mountains in northern Epirus, the northwestern area of Greece, one named Mali and the other Vitis. Thus, the name could have been derived from the area. Another theory is that some Malevitsis ancestors migrated north from the Peloponnese in the 1600s or 1700s.
Jim has prepared a family tree that originates in the 1800s. His grandfather Demetri Malevitsis came to Seattle, Washington, in 1905 but didn’t like the lifestyle and returned to Greece. Jim’s father George Malevitsis, born on June 30, 1914, was from Koukouvista (now Koloskopi) near Delphi and worked in Lamia, about two hours north of Athens, where his relatives were neighbors with the Denopoulos family. Jim’s mother Eleni Denopoulos was born on February 5, 1918, near Karpenisi in the mountains of central Greece. Eleni’s theas (aunts) recommended Eleni as a bride for George and the couple was married in Lamia on November 17, 1945. Times in Greece after World War II were very difficult so it was without the traditional dowry and celebration. Rather, it was just a simple dinner with the family.
Over a period of seven years, George served four times in the Greek Army and knew a better life existed for his wife and children. He told Eleni he had a theo (uncle), Nick Katsaniotis (Carras), in the United States and would ask his theo to make the appropriate arrangements for his passage. His plan was to stay for up to one year and then send for his family. Six months later Eleni, with a little money and two sons, Jim age five and Perry age two-and a half, sailed on the Queen Frederika, arriving in New York on March 24, 1952. Another four days of rail travel with little food or sleep brought them to Seattle, Washington.
The family was able to find housing at 43rd and Evanston in the Fremont neighborhood, not far from the Carras relatives. Eleni quickly became close friends with Anna Asimakopoulos and Ekaterini (Irene) Georges who lived close by. George worked at Western Steel, a steel-casting company owned by P. J. Alexander. Eleni worked as a seamstress at Roffe Ski Wear and Sportscaster, then at the Boeing Company making airplane seat covers. It was hard work and she was paid by the piece. George retired at age 62 and he and Eleni were able to travel extensively including ten trips to Europe. Eleni has kept an active life even after open heart surgery in 1995. She shared over 64 years of marriage with George until he died at the age of 93 in 2007.
Jim Malevitsis was born in Lamia on August 31, 1946, and his brother Perry followed on June 23, 1949. In Seattle, speaking no English and wearing short wool pants with suspenders, Jim was the brunt of teasing at B. F. Day Elementary until he learned the language and was able to blend in with his peers. He was an altar boy at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, was a member of the Sons of Pericles, the young men’s affiliate of AHEPA (American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association) and kept company with other Greek boys including Harry Stasinos and Sam Panagiotou. His parents didn’t want their sons to stray too far from their Greek roots, and encouraged attendance at Greek school to learn to read and write the language.
Jim attended Hamilton Junior High and remembers several Greeks in the area: Economou, Hamilos, Stasinos, Kouldukis and his cousins who anglicized the Malevitsis name to Martin. The family moved to 67th and Alonzo in the Ballard neighborhood, lived there for several years, then in a three-unit apartment before purchasing a home in north Seattle. Jim graduated from Ballard High School in 1964 and the University of Washington in 1971 where he studied history, education and economics. In the Seattle public school system he taught history part time at Franklin High, then full time in an alternative program and finally in the Horizon program of gifted students for six years.
Jim’s entry into the restaurant business was a bit different from that of most Greek restaurateurs although he did work in the Grill at the Olympic Hotel (now Fairmont Olympic) on weekends and full time in the summers to earn money for college. Pete Farmasonis (see A GREEK VILLAGE FOR TWO) and Louie Carras who, among other Greeks working at the Olympic, helped Jim get the job. While he was teaching, Jim and his wife had traveled extensively and had a particular interest in French cooking. In 1979 they found a building on Dexter Avenue in Seattle, took a partner, John Sarich, the culinary director of Chateau St. Michelle Winery, and built Adriatica, one of Seattle’s early upscale Mediterranean restaurants. It featured a romantic setting above Seattle’s Lake Union. Sarich became the chef with a staff of six in the kitchen. The menu included selections from Greece, as well as Italy and Yugoslavia, and was the first to serve kalamari (squid), using a recipe from Eleni’s kitchen. Jim had first tasted the delicacy in Kavala, Greece. The container in which the squid was packaged had the words “squid bait” on it as squid had previously been used only for that purpose.
In 1983 Jim opened Jimmy’s in Kirkland with another friend and investor. Jimmy’s, with a view of Lake Washington, could serve up to 200 people. It has since become the Third Floor Fish Café. In 1986 he opened Ponti Seafood Grill with Richard Malia. Finally, in 1997, he and Richard opened the 10,000 square-foot Axis Grill in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. After Adriatica closed in 2001, the building was sold but never developed and was condemned and torn down by the city. Ponti was sold to and is still operated by Richard Malia. Jim also sold the Axis Grill in 2007. Jim believes he has been in league with several other upscale Seattle restaurants including Rosellini’s 410 and Café Juanita. Jim’s enterprising and congenial style earned him the Annual Hellenic Heritage and Achievement Award from AHEPA in 1998.
Jim believes the Greek immigrant experience of opening restaurants is not much different from that of Mexican, Vietnamese or other immigrants today. In his view, the work does not require extensive training or experience. He does know that, while good food is important, the owner’s presence and customer service are equally important. He was fortunate to share the responsibility with partners but found the operation of three restaurants at the same time very tiring. He was able to retire comfortably in 2008.
Jim enjoys the company of his son Demetri from his first marriage and his daughter Sophia from his second marriage. Sophia says she wants to be just like her yiayia (grandmother) Eleni. She has even written a history paper on the Greek revolution and political parties in Greece. Jim presently lives in Seattle’s Queen Anne area and frequently visits his mother who has lived in Shoreline, just north of Seattle, for the past 23 years. Jim’s younger brother Perry and his wife Eleni live nearby and have two children, George and Nina, named after their grandparents.
With little in the way of education or material goods when they came to the United States, his parents worked hard to provide for their sons. Thus Jim felt a need to work hard and become independent so as not to be a burden on them. While he occasionally felt like an outsider during his youth, he values the traditions or “Greek protocol” that has accompanied him in his later years. In the video segment below entitled Greek Time Warp, Jim describes how many Greeks and Greek-Americans view their mother country as unchanged by time and technology. Jim fondly recalls Easter holidays together with his relatives, especially his great uncle Nick Carras. He remains close with many first and second cousins in the Lamia area and plans to visit Greece again in the near future.
One of Jim’s favorite sayings is “otan to potiri eine spasmeno, then kratai krasi” if the glass is cracked, it will never hold wine, or a shaky or broken relationship will not withstand adversity, an appropriate proverb for the food and beverage business.By John and Joann Nicon, December 29, 2014
1 Eleni and Jim Malevitsis, 2014
2 Demetri Denopoulos (left front) with nephews (behind) and other Evzones, late 1800s
3 Patra Katsaniotis, paternal grandmother, 1965
4 Hariklia Denopoulos, maternal grandmother, 1965
5 George Malevitsis in Albania, 1944
6 Jim and Perry, green card photos, 1953
7 George and Eleni Malevitsis, 1953
8 George and Eleni Malevitsis, 1984
9 Malevitsis family (l-r) George, Jim, Perry, Eleni, 1950s
10 Jim and Perry, 1956
11 Jim and Perry, circa 1958
12 Jim, early 1950s
13 Sons of Pericles (l-r) rear: Harry Stasinos, Manny Tolias, John Dimitri, unknown Diamond; front: Tom Tolias, Perry Malevitsis, Paul Plumis, Jim Malevitsis, John Manos, Pete Conom, 1962
14 Jim and Eleni at Adriatica, 1985
15a, and b AHEPA award, 1988
16 Jim with Sophia and Demetri, 1990s
17 Malevitsis family (l-r) standing: Perry, Eleni, George, Jim; sitting: Sophia, Demetri, Nina, Eleni, 2000s
18 Last Supper needlepoint by Eleni, 2014
Photos 1, 15a, 15b and 18 by John Nicon; all others from Malevitsis family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, March 2014