The presence of George’s Greek Cafe restaurants throughout the region have made it a local staple, if not outright institution, introducing many for the first time to the wonders of saganaki and kleftiko, spanakopita and pastitso—and its owner and founder, George Loizides, was so beloved that whenever he would make his annual trek to the motherland, his employees would put out a cardboard cut-out of him, arms wide open, grinning ear-to-ear. It helped patrons, missing him and awaiting his return, feel a bit warmer.
That cardboard cut-out will likely become a permanent fixture as family, friends, and patrons mourn the loss of George after he passed away Tuesday morning, Oct. 15, following a battle with cancer.
“His children called him ‘Baba’—Greek for ‘dad’ basically—and, in all honesty, they couldn’t be happier that they got to share him,” said Jessi Smith of George’s restaurant group. “He really was the father of Long Beach: He made people feel safe, feel welcomed…He was like a dad to everyone, including this city.”
George and his wife Rodou, both Greek Cypriot immigrants, moved to Long Beach from Zimbabwe in 1980 with three children and little more than $500. Upon arrival in our city, George would take two buses to get to his job at a liquor store, while his wife worked as a cafeteria attendant at Wilson High School.
This hard work perhaps most affected his son Jimmy, who grew up watching his parents work severely hard for very little pay—$4.25 an hour is what George made as a busboy at the liquor store, stocking, sweeping, mopping, and cleaning the space daily—and, as he told the Post three years ago, he simply didn’t want to see his father doing menial work for the rest of his life.
As both father and son saved from the day George moved his family here, on Dec. 20, 1999, George’s Greek Deli, as it was originally called, would open on the east side of Pine Avenue just north of Third Street, directly next to the Farmers & Merchants Bank. Over the next 20 years, it would move to a different location—just a bit more south on the west side of Pine—and become George’s Greek Cafe, opening a second location in Belmont Shore in 2006 and another in Lakewood two years later.
“We came here in 1980 with nothing,” Jimmy said three years ago. “Now we’re living the American dream. We own three restaurants here; we live in the greatest country in the world where you can do and be anything. With hard work and dedication, the opportunities are here.”
That dream was, for George, the restaurant. Even as his health declined, sending him into hospice care about 18 months ago, their success allowed George the opportunity to visit anywhere—but he declined.
“Jimmy and the family had the means to send him anywhere,” Jessi said. “‘Baba, you wanna go to Cancun? Fiji?’ And George would always say the same thing, ‘I just want to go to the restaurant.'”
You’ll always be there, George. “Opa!” indeed.
A public service to honor George is being planned. Details to come.
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