Legacy lives on: New owners of Greeks Restaurant renovating building

Kathy SwainJ-C Correspondent
Legacy lives on: New owners of Greeks Restaurant renovating building

A piece of Pawhuska history is about to undergo a dramatic transformation. Greeks, a hangout where many of the world’s problems have been hashed, rehashed and solutions offered up has been purchased by Chet and Sylvia Herren.

“We don’t want our regulars to get upset,” said a smiling Sylvia Herren. “We actually acquired Jim Javellas as part of the sale!”

Herren explained she and Chet could not see such a beloved legacy go by the wayside.

“The building is in need of major repairs plus Jim has been experiencing a few health issues that need to be resolved — such as bad knees.”

Javellas will be given time-off for much-needed knee surgery during renovations which are anticipated to last up to six months.

Because of the trees’ root system, the new building will have to be moved back a little bit further on the property. Herren noted, “This will be the first time in over 100 years this property has had any major changes. Chet and I plan to document the full transformation.”

“Our new plans are to mimic much of the restaurant’s original charm, including the counter, the familiar porch bench and the beautiful trees to the east of the building. Chet and I were able to acquire all four lots which allow us to create ample parking. The new building will be in reverse of the current layout which will allow for a drive-by window. We also had to follow code in laying out new restrooms. Basically, the new Greeks will incorporate the old with the new.”

While the Herren’s original intent was to rebuild with a metal building, their plans may be altered to feature a cedar façade. They do plan to have a rustic interior.

“Chet and I like Greeks the way it is,” said Herren. “We don’t want to change what isn’t broke.”

The Herrens are excited their purchase included another Greek fixture, Manager Heidi Kastning.

“We’ve been having breakfast with Heidi and Jim for the past thirteen years,” explained Herren. “She is as much a part of Greeks as Jim.”

Herren said Javellas and Kastning have been talking about their taking over the restaurant for the past two years. Their intent is to retain the family atmosphere. They also want to showcase a memorabilia wall of spanning the past three generations.

Javellas recalled Greeks history, “We have tried to keep hometown atmosphere at Greeks. I recall we always had a little country music playing. Sometimes Dad would sing to his customers. They always seemed to get a big kick out of that. Dad always wanted everyone to be happy. He was truly one of a kind. He and mom never turned anyone away, even if they couldn’t afford to pay for their meal. Dad was best known for his great chili, a family secret.”

“Greeks’ first café was not at the Huskie Grill. It sat where the Headstart Center is on Lynn Avenue and was in an old stucco house. I have a photo of Dad standing in front of the café with the high school in the background. He was real skinny, wearing his apron, young and about 18 years old. That picture proves its existence. When I was in high school, Judy’s Café was in that location in the same old stucco house.”

“The second café was where Hometown Foods sits. Back in the 20s-30s, there were houses at that location. Dad (Tom Javellas) lost his business during the depression and moved the house out west of town where he set up his third café called, ‘Tom’s Place.’ It’s where I live now. Tom’s Place had an old gas pump, BBQ pit and water well. Travelers would stop in for a sandwich or pop and get their water bags filled to cool the front of their cars. Back then, cars used cooling bags in place of radiators.”

“Later Dad returned to town where he went to work with Mrs. Lasso where Osage Federal (American Heritage Bank) is now. Mrs. Lasso taught him how to cook tamales and chili. He taught her how to make BBQ. Mrs. Lasso was the mother of Alisha Jackson Christmas and grandmother of Debbie Reed. She got sick. Dad scraped up enough money to buy her portion of the business so she could retire.”

“After Miss Lasso closed, Dad set up a street car café where Dr. Kirk’s Chiropractic office is on Main Street – across from Hometown Foods. The café had eight bar stools and signage that said Coney’s and breakfast. Because it was so small, folks didn’t get to visit; they ate and moved on so more people could come in.”

Later, Jim would join his dad in the restaurant business. In truth, Javellas had been helping his dad since he was 5 or 6 years old along with sisters, Ina and Elaine, who both live in Norman. The Javellas’ returned to the Osage Federal location where he stayed until the bank purchased the land back in the 1960s.

“Former Sheriff Gordon Hughes came to my rescue, said Javellas. When I found my business homeless, he offered me the site where we are currently. I believe The Tolson Agency is Pawhuska’s oldest business which Allen Bros. Feed coming in second, followed by Greeks.”

Justifying the sale of his beloved business, Javellas said, “I knew I couldn’t fix this building. It’s already caved in. At my age and my crippled knees, wasn’t any use to me spending thousands of dollars putting one in. Working with the Herren’s will enable Greeks’ history to move on. Working beside them will enable me to continue seeing my customers who are my friends. It’s been a fantastic ride.”

Herren replied, “We have a lot of good ideas. We want to get pictures of people who frequented the place for our memorabilia wall. Heidi wants to put up big OSU poster. Bad idea.”

Chuckling, Javellas interjected, “Sylvia, better have a few OSU posters for my customers.” Kastning added, “There are tons of stories here. Jack Gaffney was a doozy. Spider, Leon Shaw, Jim Whitehorn — the list goes on. Greeks is a place where memories continue to be made.

“I could not have completed this journey without the support of my bride Cleota. When we lost Mom, Cleota (I call her ‘Baby’) took over a lot of things for Dad. He thought a lot of Baby. We all helped Dad with the business. I have fond memories of our two boys, Tommy and Jimmy, working alongside Dad and me — often late at night. Their involvement in Greeks began when they were just pups. They have been a big help. Greeks’ is a family affair.”

One thing is for sure, the grand opening will feature many of the old timers and staff as this P-town landmark continues for decades to come.