Steven and Nina Poliouras, owners and operators of New York Lunch on 922 East Avenue for the last 50 years. | Photo via Jack Hanrahan, Erie Times-News.
Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:
Before getting into this week’s good news, a brief personal note is in order. I’ve been writing these weekly odes to Erie optimism for over a year now, and while I love it and feel it’s drawn me closer than ever to the hometown I love, this has been a draining thing to do.
I have a day job, after all, and a young family who demand quite a bit of energy themselves. Sometimes I think of the time it takes to help the Idiotville team maintain and build on our community of like-minded Idiots and wonder how long I’ll continue. I daydream about how I’d spend the additional spare time.
Today, while reading through the week of Erie news for inspiration, the GoErie article linked above snapped me out of my momentary self-pity and left me in awe of its subjects.
If you read the above GoErie article (and you should), you’ll learn that Steven and Nina Paliouras just surpassed 50 straight years of operating New York Lunch on East Avenue. Fifty! Needless to say, operating a restaurant is slightly more demanding than the sum total of my 40-hour desk job and occasional blog post.
And yet, taking over New York Lunch back in 1969 wasn’t the beginning of this story; it was the culmination of an incredible prequel. Steven and Nina were born in Greece. Nina came from the northern mountains in a small home with dirt floors and five siblings. Steven didn’t grow up on dirt floors, but did flee to a cave for six months to escape the horrors of German and Italian occupation during World War II.
Awhile later, after their marriage and a few years in France, Steven and Nina came to Erie as immigrants. They could not speak English. They took out a loan to buy New York Lunch and began working themselves to the bone day in and day out for their own little slice of the American Dream. Neighbors helped them learn English in their spare time, including America’s favorite neighbor of all – Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
When asked, though, Steven didn’t credit his own hard work for his success. From the GoErie article:
“America is the best place in theworld. There is no better place.”
That’s right. He credits the country that took him in when he was young, poor, and vulnerable, for giving him a chance to prove himself. His refusal to pat himself on the back is classy, commendable, and increasingly rare.
He and Nina have worked at the restaurant through raising their family, learning a new language, paying back their business loan, and 50 Erie winters. They’ve spent their whole American lives in this restaurant. It is the story of them, and they are the story of us. They’re 83 and 79 years old now, respectively, and showing no signs of stopping.
There may be times in your life when you doubt what you’re doing is worthwhile, when you get tired and want to give up. When you hit those obstacles, I urge you to think of Steven and Nina Paliouras and keep going. If they can make it from a cave or a dirt-floor house in the Greek mountains to life of success in Erie, PA, you can make it where you want to go. You will make it.Just keep going.
During your travels, make a point to stop by New York Lunch at 922 East Avenue. You’ll be glad you did. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but the outside of a restaurant isn’t what’s important. On the inside of this place, the Greek dogs taste like America.