Visit to Greek island of Crete fulfills vow to late restaurateur

Gus Mancy was 18 years old in 1916 when he said goodbye to his mother and friends in Greece and left his village to come to America. He died in 1988 at the age of 90.
Gus Mancy was 18 years old in 1916 when he said goodbye to his mother and friends in Greece and left his village to come to America. He died in 1988 at the age of 90.

A tribute to the late Toledo restaurateur Gus Mancy also shows just how far you can go to keep a promise to a friend if the will is strong, the plans are in place, and the inspiration is from your heart.

And that’s why I made it to Avdou on the Greek island of Crete. Visiting the small village in the mountains was more than a highlight of an 11-day cruise that included stops at the islands of Rhodes and Mykonos and three days in Athens.

I was keeping my word to a man who emulated the American success story and who enjoyed telling his tale.

I was one of the fortunate people who heard how when Mr. Mancy was 18 years old in 1916 he said goodbye to his mother and friends and left his village to come to America. He learned quickly that the streets weren’t really paved with gold, but if you were willing to work hard your goals were attainable.

After working in Toledo for two years he opened the Commercial restaurant with his cousin, Nick Graham, in downtown Toledo. The second restaurant was the Ideal on Phillips Avenue, now Mancy’s Steak House, where until his death he was always out front to greet every customer with a big smile.

Mr. Mancy wasn’t the only successful Greek immigrant in the restaurant business I have been friends with, but he became special to me until his death at 90 in 1988. In many ways his pleasant personality, ready smile, bald head, and stocky stature reminded me of my father.

I often convinced him to take a break from the steak house front desk to go out to dinner. He never cared what restaurant we visited as long as someone in it spoke Greek, be it the busboy, cook, or the owner. I am sure Crete and Avdou were prime subjects in those conversations.

It was at the dinners that he often said, “Mary Alice, I wish you could see Crete and my village. They are beautiful.”

I answered, “Some day I will.”

Crete, the second largest Greek island, is popular with tourists for the dramatic mountain range and ocean resorts. But Avdou is not a destination. When the ship docked, I asked an agent in the terminal the best way to get there. She said it would be best to rent a car and not to get lost.

An uninterested taxi driver said, “Nobody goes there.” After a mile walk to downtown Herkalion, the port city, taxi driver George Kzagiozgis eagerly took my $90 for the hour-long drive to and from Avdou. My cruise travel pals Jim and Mary Ellen accompanied me on the adventure.

I held tight to the printout of the information John Mancy emailed from Toledo about his father in preparation for the trip. Gus’ name in Greek was Kosta John Manousakis. He was born in 1898; his father, John Manousakis, was a teacher who died of pneumonia when he was 55.

It was 78 degrees and a perfect day for the drive on the mountainous road past olive trees, small farms, and lush scenery. 

The village was postcard perfect with old brightly painted houses, two large churches, one small supermarket, a public well, and a souvenir shop with wares including olive oil and olive oil soap.

The taverna in the town square was obviously a gathering spot for townspeople. Three men were sipping coffee and eating apricots from the tree they were sitting under. I passed the name Kosta Manousakis around, but no one knew a family by that name.

We chatted with the owners; an elderly couple who insisted their American visitors have a taste of Creton whisky. I didn’t tell them it is as bad as Greek wine. I was sorry there wasn’t time for lunch. It would have been fun to compare the foods there with those that are served in Greek restaurants in Toledo: pastitsio, moussaka, lamb shanks, rice, and fresh vegetable salads.

Before the Crete visit, my favorite Gus Mancy story was one of those “only in America” tales. When he arrived in Toledo he was on a streetcar going downtown.

He got off at the corner of Monroe and Summit streets to get help from a policeman in a booth. To the young immigrant who spoke no English, a sign Kostopoulos on a candy store was welcoming. Later he married Margaret Kostopoulos, the storekeeper’s daughter.

Today five of their grandsons operate Mancy Family Restaurants that, in addition to the original Mancy’s Steak House, are Mancy’s Italian, Mancy’s Bluewater Grill, and Shorty’s Barbeque.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

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