When Angelo Stavropoulos entered the room, it immediately belonged to him.
His loud, powerful presence drew the attention of everyone around him. Dressed to the nines in a three-piece suit – or dressed as flashy as after a day of fishing – Mr. Stavropoulos did his best to make others laugh and feel at home.
That’s exactly what he did at the Peconic Bay Diner in Riverhead. The restaurant, which he has owned and operated since 1992, was the epitome of a family establishment: not only does his wife and children work there, but the employees and customers who frequent him are immersed in the unique family raised by his diner.
Now they are all in mourning after he died suddenly on Monday afternoon when his car crashed into a tree on the main road in Laurel. The Riverhead resident was 68 years old.
“The diner has become a home, a healing place,” said longtime customer Rachel Derry. After her father’s death a few years ago, Ms. Derry said the Stavropoulos were “family in time of need”.
Cynthia Accomando and Gabriel Morales, two diner employees with over a decade of experience, called Mr. Stavropoulos their father. According to them, his strong family values and deep concern for others were evident wherever he went.
Born on February 27, 1954 in Greece, Mr. Stavropoulos grew up in poverty with his family of 10. They all lived in the same concrete room, in his youth he had a close relationship with his family and attended a technical high school. He immigrated to the United States around 1980 when his brother was able to sponsor him financially.
His son Lazaros said he came to America without speaking English and with nothing but “a single coin in his pocket.”
He had several part-time jobs as a waiter and artist along with his brother, and in 1981 he started working at the Sea Coral diner in the Hauppauge. While there, he fell in love with the owner’s niece, his fiancee-to-be, Chrissy Constantatos.
“He came and of course when I saw him my heart was pounding,” Ms. Stavropoulos said. “We started talking… and then we started dating.”
The couple married in 1983 and had three children: Lazaros, Eleni and Chloe. In 1991, he and his wife bought their own diner together, and the Peconic Bay Diner opened by April the following year.
Lazaros said his father wasn’t around when they were growing up, and although it was difficult at times, he understood how much his father sacrificed for their future by devoting so much time to his work.
“It was to create for us the life he wanted because he grew up in poverty,” Lazaros said. “He always thought: “What can I do for my children?”
Lazaros said the lessons his father taught him and his sisters as children have changed over the years as Mr. Stavropoulos has gone through life on his own. Childhood lessons included “Don’t be a sucker” and “Don’t let anyone take advantage of you”. As everyone got older, he used to say, “Make sure you save money” and “always be honest.”
However, the biggest lesson he taught his family in his old age was to enjoy life.
“Live life to the fullest, it’s too short,” they said.
Following his own mantras, he always set aside enough money to take his family to Greece every summer, making sure they remembered their heritage and appreciated the life they were lucky enough to live in America.
When he wasn’t busy renovating the diner or asking Mr. Morales to make him onion rings and thinly slice his meat, Mr. Stavropoulos enjoyed fishing, collecting antiques at the yard sales, and tending the gardens outside his restaurant and home. .
“He loved everything outdoors,” Khloe said. “If he could spend all day with his hands in the mud, he would.”
When his wife advised him to stop buying her roses for special occasions and not wasting money, he instead decided to plant five or six rose bushes in their yard.
Described by many as a kind soul with the biggest heart, Mr. Stavropoulos went out of his way to look after his community.
“It wasn’t just his family, it was everyone,” Eleni said. “People came: “I don’t have a dollar, what can I get?” and he gave them a five course meal. He gave the people everything he could, he gave them everything he had.”
Stavropoulos has countless stories of delivering food to patrons in the middle of a snowstorm, calling to see if he hadn’t seen them in days, and bringing flowers to the diner for his wife to put on the counter.
Ms. Derry shared that one of her favorite memories with Mr. Stavropoulos was one Sunday breakfast when he walked over to their regular table, took off his jacket and sat down at the table, talking and eating with them. He even paid for the food at the end.
“One of his main quotes was, ‘One hand washes the other,'” Eleni said. “Therefore, everyone is like a family member for us … He understood that he was not alone in this life. He needed people, and they needed him.”
Mr. Stavropoulos wasn’t the kind of owner who quickly ran around the diner and checked everything was in order – he walked around with a coffee pot in his hands, refilled mugs and pulled up a chair to sit down and chat with familiar faces.
Chorus “What are you doing?” he was heard doing his usual stunts – knocking on the door of waitress Diane Owen’s house at 8 a.m. to add firewood; lying in the middle of the parking lot in front of Ms. Derry’s car to collect her “insurance money”; asked his employees to take a picture of him while he holds his morning catch in his hands.
“See, I give you guys something to laugh at,” he told his family.
Lazaros says he can almost hear his father say things like, “One day when I’m gone, you guys will remember this.”
But if there was one thing Mr. Stavropoulos could love more than his children and the diner, it was his grandchildren.
“He found his role in life, being a grandfather, his purpose in life,” Eleni said. When one of his grandchildren said he loved apples, he planted eight apple trees in his yard.
“He came to my house on Sunday and told me and my husband: “Hurry up to have children so that we can take care of them,” Khloe added.
An impressionable and unforgettable person, the passion and love that he felt for those around him is palpable in the ever-growing family that he left behind.
BUT facebook post from the Peconic Bay Diner that announced his death was inundated with hundreds of comments praising Mr. Stavropoulos, describing him as an exceptional boss, neighbor and friend to everyone. The family he built will remember him and mourn his loss deeply as he touched so many lives around him.
Eleni tells the community, “Thank you for experiencing it with us. Thank you for growing with all of us as a family.” Stavropoulos, Ms Derry says: “Let’s be a family now. You gave us a home.”
The family will welcome visitors Thursday, June 23, from 3:00 pm to 8:00 pm at McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home in Riverhead. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, June 24 at St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church in Blue Point, followed by burial at Commack Cemetery.
Memorial donations can be made to the American Heart Association.