Constantin "Gus" Zotis, a native of Greece who escaped a concentration camp during World War II and eventually came to Pittsburgh, where he owned a prominent confectionery business, Belmar Candies, died Saturday at home in Upper St. Clair. Mr. Zotis was 89. The cause of death was not disclosed.
At age 17, while working in a pastry shop in Pyrgos, Greece, Mr. Zotis was picked up by the Italian Military Police and sent to a prison camp in southern Italy. He escaped once and was captured but made it out on his second attempt, jumped a train and sought refuge in Rome until the end of the war.
He chronicled his experiences in a book, "I Am Still Standing," published in 2001.
After stints in the British Royal Air Force, farming in South America and working on a cargo ship, Mr. Zotis landed in Pittsburgh, where he found work with Price Candy, which supplied sweets for Gimbels department stores.
In 1955, he bought Belmar Candies, which his uncle had founded in Homewood in 1917.
Under his management, the business grew to 14 retail outlets and a factory on Painters Run Road in Upper St. Clair that produced chocolate-covered cherries, pretzels and other traditional boxed-candy treats as well as chocolate bars used for fundraisers.
By the time he took over Belmar, Mr. Zotis had married his wife, Bessie, who was introduced to him by a matchmaker at a Greek Orthodox church.
They had four children who worked at the family business "from the day we were able to walk and we could put the cups in the trays so he could dip them" into the chocolate, said Mr. Zotis' daughter, Cindy Pyzdrowski of Butler.
"It was a beautiful business, and my mother ran it with him," she said.
After 40 years with Mr. Zotis at the helm, the company fell on tough times and filed for bankruptcy. Following the bankruptcy filing, Mr. Zotis told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he regretted making a push into opening more retail stores instead of focusing on the fundraising business.
Mr. Zotis and his wife relocated to North Carolina, where he sold real estate for about 15 years prior to retiring and then moving back to Pittsburgh a couple years ago, his daughter said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include three sons, John of Robinson, Dean of Mt. Lebanon and Nick of Upper St. Clair; 12 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today at Beinhauer Mortuary, 2630 West Liberty Ave., Beechview, with a Trisagion Service at 7:30 p.m. Visitation continues Wednesday from 10 a.m. until a funeral liturgy at 11 a.m. at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, 123 Gilkeson Road, Mt. Lebanon. Entombment will be in Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.