Restaurant business

Couple ‘still living their dream’ after nearly four decades in the restaurant business | Local News

If you haven’t walked into the Parthenon Restaurant in Fredericksburg in several years, you’ll be surprised that it still looks, smells and feels like it did in the mid-1980s. In fact, you’ll still see owner Manny Psaras working in the kitchen while his wife Sophia tends to tables and customers.

“The only thing that changed was that I had them closed on Monday,” said Irene Psaras, the couple’s daughter who helps out on weekends and whenever she can get away from her own business in side at Renee’s Crepes and Cakes.

“It pretty much looks like it was in the 80s,” she said. “The kitchen is basically the same.”

Irene said a lot of things at her parents’ small Greek and Italian restaurant hadn’t changed much since March 1984, when the couple started serving homemade pizza, pasta, gyros and baklava.

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“Ninety-five percent of the stuff is still the same, other than the tablecloths and booths,” she said. “Even the freezers and refrigerators are 50 years old. Everything still works.

Originally from the Greek island of Karpathos, located in the Mediterranean Sea between Rhodes and Crete, Manny and Sophia Psaras immigrated separately to Arlington in the mid-1970s to join relatives from each of their respective families who had already made the trip.

While in Greece, Manny worked as a laborer on construction sites, pouring concrete for new homes. When he came to the United States, his first job was as a waiter in a restaurant in Northern Virginia. Unbeknownst to Manny, his future wife Sophia, who was also living in Arlington’s Greek community at the time, was a coat checker at another company in the area.

Irene said her father had a hard time talking to others at the time.

“He didn’t even know a word of English,” she said. “His best friend told him, whatever they tell you, you say it again.”

Manny finally met Sophia in 1976 at a community event. Although only a few years older than Manny, Sophia said the two actually lived in the same small village while growing up in Karpathos and even attended the same school, but after meeting on American soil for the first time in years, she said she was a little surprised at Manny’s reaction.

“He didn’t even recognize me,” Sophia said. “He said, ‘Who is the young woman? “”

The couple fell in love and got married the same year, and eight years passed until they decided to start their own business together.

The couple found three Northern Virginia restaurants for sale, including the Parthenon in Fredericksburg at 2024 Augustine Ave., which was originally owned by two brothers who sold it to another man. This man sold it to Manny and Sophia a year after venturing into the business. For the first six months of ownership, the couple drove from Arlington to Fredericksburg seven days a week before moving into an apartment close to the business, where the new menu featured homemade dishes with a Mediterranean flavor.

“(Manny) grew up baking bread.” said Irene. “I think that’s where the trick is. Everything is homemade. »

Although they didn’t know anyone in Fredericksburg when they opened the restaurant, Sophia ventured to deliver copies of the restaurant’s menu to local businesses and surrounding medical offices. The late Franklin Powell, who ran Powell’s Furniture – also on Augustine Avenue at the time – even helped the couple by spending over $300 to buy an advertisement in The Free Lance-Star announcing the new establishment. For their first year in business, Manny even stepped away from the oven to deliver pizza to students in University of Mary Washington dorms.

“After we got busier, we stopped doing it,” Manny said.

Irene, 41, said she grew up at the Parthenon, calling it “our first home”.

“They work hard,” Irene said. “They are like robots.”

Now in her 60s, Irene said her parents’ dedication to serving the community a good meal hasn’t slowed down one iota since they opened. She said her brother, a part-time dishwasher and herself were the only help the couple had to lend a hand.

“Unless I’m going to Europe, I don’t have a weekend off,” Psaras said. “I think if they stop working they slow down more, but if they work there it keeps them active.”

Over the past 38 years in Fredericksburg, Manny and Sophia have developed a loyal clientele that frequents the old-fashioned restaurant.

Stafford County attorney Eric Olsen has been a loyal client of the Parthenon since it opened.

“Manny makes the best pizza in town,” Olsen said. “He perfected pizza.”

Olsen said the reason he keeps coming back to the Parthenon is not just because of the great food and “small town restaurant vibe” but because of the warm hospitality always offered. by Manny and Sophia every time he walks through the door.

“They are so endearing. They are so friendly,” Olsen said. “You feel like part of the family when you come, and it always is.”

Barbara McQuiddy, from South Stafford, has dined at the Parthenon every Friday since the late 1970s, even before the Psaras took over when the two original owners operated the restaurant.

“Everyone is so nice there and the food is always so good,” McQuiddy said. “For us to go there all these years, the food has to be good.”

Days after the January blizzard dumped a heavy blanket of snow in the area, Manny came down with COVID-19 and was forced to stay away from the business for several weeks. Today he is healthy and doing what he loves again with his wife by his side. Irene said the idea of ​​her parents withdrawing or closing the Parthenon is something the family does not dwell on.

“I don’t even talk about it,” Irene said. “They are living the dream. I’m just gonna let them enjoy what they have.