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In Memoriam: Angelos Metsikas (1934-2007)
Zeta European Emporium loses longtime owner
by Jennifer Hambrick
Eleni and Angelos Metsikas
Angelos Metsikas, known as the owner of the Short North’s Zeta European Emporium and an inveterate family man, died March 26 of lung cancer. He was 72.
Born in Agios Vassilis, Greece, a small village outside Thelonika, Metsikas immigrated to the United States in 1970 with his wife, Eleni (Avradopoulos) and their daughters Valerie (Metsika), Costula (Balaloski) and Christina (Metsika). The family came directly to Columbus, where Metsikas’ brothers-in-law were already living among the city’s established Greek community.
Metsikas’ story is like that of many others who have come to America in search of opportunity, prosperity and a better life.
“He grew up fairly poor and he understood what it was like not to have anything,” Costula Balaloski said. “When (my parents) came to this country they had $300 and didn’t speak a word of English. They learned the language well enough to make their business successful and to create a very good life for our family.”
Metsikas worked in the Simmons mattress factory before buying Zeta European Emporium in 1982. He moved the restaurant and specialty store from its location on Livingston Avenue, first to a storefront directly across High Street from its present location at 751 N. High.
Zeta European Emporium became known as much for its warm-hearted owner as for its tasty and filling gyros made to order.
“I moved here in the early 1990s and his shop was the first place I went for lunch,” said Steve Boggess, who ate gyros from Zeta European Emporium at least once a week.
“Generally he made gyros one or two at a time. He took a lot of pride in his work. He was always real concerned that you get your sandwich hot, and if you were a little bit late picking up the order, he’d put your sandwich on the back burner to keep it hot. It was a good sandwich, well made. I think that’s a lost art form. He was a real artist at what he did.”
Boggess says he and Metsikas became friends over the years.
“We’ve always been real close. He met all my family, all of my girlfriends, even my pet.”
Boggess says he had spoken to Metsikas of his red-tailed boa constrictor, Chopin, and that Metsikas had expressed an interest in meeting the snake. Sometime later, Boggess took Chopin to meet Metsikas behind the Emporium.
“My dad loved learning about his customers on a very personal level,” Balaloski said. “He really liked finding out what people were doing with their lives, if they had children and if they had ever traveled to Greece. He loved hearing their stories.”
Metsikas’ interest in his customers’ lives and families stemmed from his dedication to his own family. Balaloski says her father wanted to raise his children among other Greeks, though in a country with more opportunities than Greece had to offer. Metsikas raised his children in Greek Orthodoxy, as members of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and sent them to Greek school. The family spoke only Greek at home.
“Now my sisters and I are all fluent in Greek, and when we go to Greece, we feel very comfortable getting around. My parents saw the opportunities here in the U.S., but they didn’t want us to forget our culture and our faith,” Balaloski said.
“He liked Greek music and dancing,” said Metsikas’ brother-in-law, Peter Avradopoulos. “He was one of the best Greek dancers. He was a warm-hearted guy and everybody liked him.”
Over the years, Zeta European Emporium truly became a family business. Both Metsikas and his wife operated the store, and their daughters worked there as they got old enough. A third generation had begun to assert itself in the business.
“He was an amazing grandfather,” Balaloski said. “He really loved the grandchildren. We would come and sit with him at the store while he was working, and my dad would stop everything he was doing and play with (his grandson) for a minute. Mom and Dad had pictures up in their store. The customers were great because they could appreciate stopping and letting dad play with his grandson. It was a very homey environment.”
The business sustained the family from day to day and was a strong enough foundation to allow Metsikas’ daughters to attend college and professional school. Metsikas had also built a home in his native Greece where the family had spent vacations, and where he and Eleni had hoped to retire. Metsikas had even talked about taking a vacation this summer to his home in Greece, with wife Eleni, daughters and sons-in-law and grandchildren. Still, he never forgot his own modest beginnings.
“One thing I always appreciated about my dad was that he made a good life for himself, but he knew that there were people who struggled,” Balaloski said. “I would come into the store and there would be someone there doing odd jobs for my dad – someone would come in and wash the windows, and he would give them $30. He never forgot what it was like to be poor and not to have anything.”
Even as lung cancer weakened his body, the work ethic that brought Metsikas and his family such success never flagged.
“My dad worked very hard. Even up to the time when he got pretty sick, he still talked about going to the store and continuing to run the business,” Balaloski said.
The Metsikas family is planning to sell Zeta European Emporium.
Meanwhile, the two-and-a-half-year-old grandson who spoke only Greek to his grandfather, Balaloski says, still speaks to him every day.
“The Greeks believe that once you pass, your soul remains on earth for 40 days,” Balaloski said. “We still feel like he’s here. We feel his presence.”
© 2007 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.