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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 30, 2009
Vlahos, Greek restaurateur, embodied the American dream
ALTAMONT Constantine Vlahos, who catered to decades of diners at the Altamont Manor, catered to his family as well.
“He was a wonderful father and very thoughtful husband,” said his wife of 68 years, Anne Vlahos. The couple raised two children Kathryn and Harvey.
Mr. Vlahos died on July 21, 2009 at St. Peter’s Hospice Inn. He was 97.
“He was a happy, caring person with many, many friends,” wrote his son, Harvey Vlahos, in a tribute. “He had a wonderful dry sense of humor and was extremely well read and informed. He was a formidable force when watching and playing Jeopardy.”
The son of Catherine and Aristides Vlahos, he was born in Liodorikion, Greece on Christmas Eve in 1911. He came to America with his father at the age of 4.
“His life embodied the promise and dreams this country held for millions of immigrants in the early years of the last century,” wrote his son.
Known to his friends and family as Charlie, Mr. Vlahos graduated from high school in Pittsburgh, Pa. then moved to Wellsville, N.Y. to live with relatives when his father returned to Greece. He began his long restaurant career in their Texas Hot Restaurant, one of the country’s longest continuously operating family restaurants.
“Wellsville’s rural character made Charlie an avid outdoorsman,” his son wrote. “Once, while ice fishing with friends, he fell through the ice. Rather than return home, ending the fun, they built a fire, dried out his clothes, and continued fishing.”
It was in Wellsville that Mr. Vlahos met the woman who was to become his wife.
“I come from Alberta, Canada,” said Anne Vlahos. “My family was coming east. My father had a niece in Wellsville he hadn’t seen since he left Greece 25 years before. Charlie was working for her husband in their restaurant...It was love at first sight.”
The couple married twice in September 1940 and again on May 4, 1941 which Mrs. Vlahos termed “the real wedding date” and one they celebrated every year for 68 years.
She had gotten advice from a friend of hers in St. Catherine’s to marry at least six months before the actual wedding so they could be together after May 4.
“My friend had married a boy from the United States during the war and she could not come to this country after the wedding,” said Mrs. Vlahos. “She had papers and legal things to go through. She could not join her husband for six months.”
Still, after all the preparation, there was a hitch for the Vlahoses.
“When we crossed the border after we were married, we thought all the legality was over. But an immigration officer said to Charlie, ‘You have to pay a head tax on your wife.’ It was $8.”
“Charlie said to me, ‘You know how much your head is worth.’ He had a great sense of humor.”
Mr. Vlahos served in World War II. Because of his restaurant background, he started as a cook. “In a bit of irony,” his son wrote, “his outdoorsman’s experience enabled him to win the regimental shooting competition, prompting the commanding officer to utter, ‘What the hell is a marksman like that doing in the kitchen?’”
Mr. Vlahos was transferred to a chemical unit and served in New Guinea until the end of the war.
After the war, the Vlahoses purchased their first restaurant, on a main street in Bradford, Pa., the same town where Mrs. Vlahos’s friend from St. Catherine’s had settled with her American husband. The Vlahoses ran the Bradford restaurant successfully from 1947 to 1962.
“Then we lost our lease and had to leave,” recalled Mrs. Vlahos. “We looked at a lot of different locations. My husband wanted to own the building so he wouldn’t be at the mercy of a landlord again.”
She named the many different cities where they looked for a restaurant, saying, “He was quite particular. One by one, the real-estate agents were dropping us. Then we got an agent in Voorheesville who was very accommodating. He took us to a little bungalow by Thacher Park that was too small. My husband wanted a large kitchen....
“Making the horseshoe, we came down Route 156 and the agent said there was a restaurant down there,” pointing to what would become Altamont Manor. He didn’t have a key or time to show it, though.
The Vlahoses went up to take a look by themselves, and were put off by the overgrown driveway so far from a main road. “Charlie said, ‘We don’t want a restaurant down there.’ It reminded him of a speak-easy,” His wife recalled. They turned around.
Then the Voorheesville agent called and said he’d made an appointment for the Vlahoses to see it. When her husband got off the phone, Mrs. Vlahos was puzzled as to why he’d agreed to go. “The guy’s been so nice, I couldn’t say no,” Mr. Vlahos replied.
When they saw the grand old, if neglected, house, Mrs. Vlahos said, it, too, was “love at first sight.”
“It reminded us of our big old house in Bradford,” she said. “It was a lovely place to live.”
The Vlahoses moved in that July and turned on the heat in September. “Most of the walls cracked; some came apart,” said Mrs. Vlahos. The manor had bad plumbing, and needed new wiring and a new furnace.
“We worked for eight months, every day, restoring the place,” she recalled. They had the help of a Guilderland Center carpenter, Stanley Crounse. “He took just one week off in all that time to go fishing,” said Mrs. Vlahos.
Once the restaurant opened, in 1964, Mrs. Vlahos said, “It was a lot of fun.”
“The Altamont Manor gained a reputation as one of the finest restaurants in the Capital District, being named to the Times Union’s and Gazette’s top-10 lists year after year,” wrote Harvey Vlahos.
The couple retired in 1982. The Vlahoses enjoyed traveling during their retirement. “We bought a motor home and crossed the country three times,” said Mrs. Vlahos. “Charlie loved traveling. He just liked going and going.”
“Charlie and Anne were loved and respected, not only by family and friends but by those who worked for them,” wrote their son. “Since retiring, some 27 years ago, they have held an annual Altamont Manor staff party, well attended by those who worked there during those years.”
“He was easy to get along with,” concluded Mrs. Vlahos of her husband. “He had a delightful personality.”
Constantine (Charlie) Vlahos is survived by his wife, Anne; daughter, Kathryn; son, Harvey, and his wife, Donna Abbot-Vlahos; and his much loved grandson, Konstantin, all of Altamont.
He is also survived by his sister, Zoe Triantis of Athens, Greece; his sister-in-law, Zoe Brigis of Queens, N.Y.; and his sister-in-law, Anne Brigis, of Canada as well as many nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Mr. Vlahos was a Mason for 62 years and active in the Eastern Star since 1990. He was a member of the Altamont Reformed Church and a Community Caregivers volunteer.
He made an anatomical gift of his body to Albany Medical College.
A celebration of his life will be held on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2009, at the Altamont Reformed Church. Friends and family are invited from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. A combined Eastern Star and Reformed Church service in the sanctuary will follow.
Memorial contributions may be sent to the Altamont Reformed Church, Post Office Box 671, Altamont, NY 12009; or to Community Caregivers, 2113 Western Ave., Suite 4, Guilderland, NY 12084; or to Order of the Eastern Star, 73 Stempel Road, East Berne, NY 12059-2843.