Like his Greek ancestors, Chris Sarantis could pass on philosophy and wisdom to anyone he came across.
"He was very knowledgeable, he’s a very smart person, the smartest person I know, and I know a lot of smart people," said George Sarantis, his 19-year-old son and George Mason University sophomore. "If he saw that somebody was having a problem, he would sit down with them and try and help them work through it. That’s the type of person he was."
Chris Sarantis, the venerable community member, family man and owner of Spartans and Olympians Family Restaurants in Burke, died on Sept. 20 from heart complications at the age of 52.
For the Sarantis family and the community that visited their restaurants, the loss of a man described as "selfless" and "very upbeat" will be felt deeply. More than 1,000 people attended his Sept. 23 funeral, said George Sarantis.
"He was like a father … I’ve known him for eight years, and from the beginning, he’s been treating me like his son," said son-in-law Angelo Linardakis, who works as a manager and partner in the two restaurants. "He was a great man … he always said that family came first, but taking care of the business was also very important."
CHRIS SARANTIS immigrated to the United States from Greece after marrying his wife, Xenia, in 1978, according to George Sarantis. Originally a barber, Chris Sarantis eventually moved over to the restaurant business, holding "just about every job" in the restaurant industry, according to Linardakis.
After several years of work, Sarantis, who obtained his U.S. citizenship in the 1980s, was able to invest enough money into Spartans, which opened as a Burke community and family gathering place in 1995. Sarantis, who was described by his family as a self-made man, dedicated himself to building and installing nearly everything within the restaurant’s walls.
"He was always there late at night, trying to make the place better," George Sarantis said. "He just wanted to make it the best place possible for the people who ate there."
It was that dedication that caused Spartans and eventually Olympians — which opened in the autumn of 2003 — to become a Burke community crossroads. At the center of that crossroads was Chris Sarantis’ selfless personality, his son said.
"He was friends with pretty much everybody who came through the door," George Sarantis said. "He did it so that the people that were there felt like they were at home in the restaurant … he used it to bring everybody together."
Linardakis and George Sarantis said that they cannot remember how many times they saw Chris Sarantis sitting at tables with customers, talking about the world and helping them to work out problems.
"He was like the glue for a lot of people in the community," George Sarantis said. "He always said the best way to a person’s heart is through food … and he provided that to people."
THE USE OF Chris Sarantis’ restaurant and its services as part of the community was a reflection of his character and pride of not just the Burke area, but the entire United States, according to friends and family. They pointed to his participation in community festivals and fund raising, such as the annual Taste of Braddock and police charity events.
"He’s a very upbeat, positive man, very enthusiastic about being a part of the community," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock). "Over the years, his restaurants have been a real community gathering place, the type of place where everyone knows your name."
With a family that is closely involved in the operation of his business, the Sarantis and Linardakis families will not need to go far to honor Chris Sarantis’ dreams and aspirations.
"Everything will stay the same, it will be just as he kept it and just as he wanted it to be," said George Sarantis, who also works at the restaurants. "All the things that he talked about, all the things that he wanted to accomplish, we’re going to do all of those."
But Chris Sarantis has left some big shoes to fill.
"He was so involved in the business, so involved in the customers, he had no problem talking to the people who came there," Linardakis said. "People like that, they don’t come around too often."