Obituary: James Stavros / Restaurant owner left Greece to pursue 'American Dream'

Feb. 14, 1915 - May 13, 2014

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When James Stavros was 15, he left Greece and came to Pittsburgh to go to college.

Instead, he ended up fighting in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II before returning to Pittsburgh, where he opened a popular restaurant and raised a family.

Mr. Stavros died on Tuesday in Brentwood. He was 99.

His family was from Ikaria -- famous for the longevity of its inhabitants -- and by his teens, his father had immigrated to Pittsburgh and was working as a bridge painter. His father bought him a ticket to the U.S. to put him through school at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University.

Mr. Stavros arrived in 1930, but soon his father was badly injured at work and returned to Ikaria.

Lacking the funds to go to college without his father's income, Mr. Stavros got a job as a waiter at what is now the Omni William Penn Hotel, where he met another waiter, Martha Papuga, who later became his wife.

In January 1942, Mr. Stavros was drafted into the Army. As an artillery tech sergeant in the Americal division, he fought in some of the most hotly contested battles of the Pacific Theater: Guadalcanal, Bougaineville and Cebu.

His awards include a bronze service arrowhead for amphibious landing and three bronze stars.

An Army commendation letter described him as cool-headed and courageous under fire.

After returning to the U.S., Mr. Stavros opened a restaurant called The Dinner Bell on Liberty Avenue, where Mahoney's Restaurant is today.

His daughter, Christine Hunsinger, said he was an avid Pittsburgh sports fan who could recite statistics dating back to 1930.

He was at Forbes Field for Bill Mazeroski's World Series-winning home run in 1960, and even in recent years knew all the stats.

After selling The Dinner Bell, Mr. Stavros managed The Wheel Cafe on Forbes Avenue, Downtown, now the Courthouse Tavern.

Son Jay Stavros said that, as a manager, his father was at once soft-spoken and full of stories.

"How can you be quiet and gregarious at the same time?" he said. "But he sort of was. He loved to talk sports, and there was always someone to talk sports with."

Mr. Stavros also loved to visit with his granddaughter Emily, who, without realizing it, fulfilled her grandfather's youthful ambition by graduating from Carnegie Mellon.

Emily's mother, Barbara Duff, said Mr. Stavros never had pushed Emily to go to college and only told her the story of how he came to the U.S. after she graduated.

"You did what I came to this country to do, and did not do," Mr. Stavros had said to her.

He is survived by his children, Christine Hunsinger of Brentwood, Barbara Duff of Whitehall and James "Jay" Stavros of Bethel Park; and by his granddaugher, Emily.

A wake will be held from 4-8 p.m. Thursday at John F. Slater Funeral Home, Inc., 4201 Brownsville Road, in Brentwood.

Services will be held at 9:15 a.m. Friday at the funeral home, followed by burial at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.


Brett Sholtis: bsholtis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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