Seattle restaurateur Vasili "Bill" Vlachos, died Sept. 4, after living an immigrant's dream. He was 70.
Seattle restaurateur Vasili “Bill” Vlachos died Sept. 4, after living an immigrant’s dream. He was 70.
He grew up in the Greek village of Pirgos near Karditsa. His family farmed and he earned extra money as a kid by starting a junk-collecting business.
In 1957, when he was 18, he attended the University of Bonn in Germany to study physics. He soon turned his attention to America, where he believed he could become rich and help his family, said his daughter, Eleni Vlachos.
He couldn’t get a visa to the U.S. so he boarded a ship bound for Canada. He had $250 in his pocket, and because the ship sailed out of Holland, none of his family or friends could be there to see him off.
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“I get aboard by afternoon and the boat was leaving in few hours,” he recounted in his unfinished memoir. “There were about 1,500 passengers, and as many on the dock, waving their handkerchiefs, to their friends and relatives. I didn’t have no one to wave at, but I always wanted to do that. It was a very emotional moment. I start waving back too. Why not?”
Shortly after arriving in Canada, Mr. Vlachos made his way west, working in a series of restaurants. He wound up in Vancouver, B.C., where he met Janine Davis, who was on vacation from Seattle. He knew only a few English phrases. One of them was, “You are beautiful.” They married in 1968.
He worked a series of restaurant and hospitality jobs in Seattle to learn the business before opening his own pizza joints and other restaurants including Vasili’s, Mama Ella’s, Poseidon’s and Apollo’s. His daughter said he hardly ever borrowed money, instead relying on his resourcefulness and repair expertise to spare expense.
One time between ventures, he drove a cab. One of his fares was a business partner and together they opened Bill’s Off Broadway on Capitol Hill in 1980.
In all, Mr. Vlachos lived in Seattle almost 40 years and opened about 20 restaurants, most of them local.
His daughter said he was always imagining the next project and at the time of his death was looking into alternative fuel production in Greece and finishing the memoir about his life. The last time his daughter spoke to her father, he asked her to send him recipes for tartar sauce because he wanted to open another restaurant.
Mr. Vlachos also imagined himself as a captain of a ship one day, and built a boat in his mother-in-law’s yard.
He usually reserved Sundays for his children, taking them to Gas Works Park and driving around to look for potential restaurants. His daughter recalls listening to Greek folk songs from a tape recorder inside his vehicle as they toured the city. He also took them to Greece for three months every summer since 1984 so they would learn and relish their roots.
He taught his children the value of hard work by having them scrape grease, operate cash registers, distribute coupons and top pizzas. While he worked hard, he knew how to play, too. He loved backgammon, cards, the “Ms. PacMan” video game, sharing philosophy and making friends laugh.
“It was not just the trips and restaurants that I remember,” said his son, Laki, “but the encouragement and support that he gave me in everything I did. Even when I entered the Marine Corps, which is something that he didn’t approve of, he supported me and was proud of what I had accomplished.”
Mr. Vlachos was buried in Karditsa, where he died of a heart attack. A memorial will be held in Greece on Oct. 10. Donations may be made to diabetes research at http://www.pcrm.org.He is survived by his children, Eleni Vlachos, of North Carolina, and Laki Vlachos, of Seattle, two grandchildren and six siblings.