Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Feta accompli

The owner of Cosmos learned the alpha, beta, gammas of running a restaurant from her Greek-born parents

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‘I’LL have what he’s having."

When Roula Alevizos and her husband-to-be were dating, she would often take him to her parents' restaurant for a bite to eat. Each time they went, Alevizos' mother would personally serve their meals with a wink and a smile.

"My mom used to put so much food on his plate it was ridiculous," says Alevizos, rolling her eyes. "He'd get three portions to everyone else's one." (We didn't have this question written down but, uh, do you have a sister?)

Cosmos Restaurant, located at 5114 Roblin Blvd., recently turned the big three-oh. To mark the occasion, Alevizos, who took over from her parents 10 years ago, is ditching her "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service" sign in favour of two 10-person Jacuzzis. On Feb. 11, Alevizos will host a Hot Tub Time Machine Party on her outdoor patio. (Tommy Tutone Alert: That same night, party band Oh So Popular will dish out '80s hits in the lounge. Even better: Prices on menu items like prime rib and chicken wings will be rolled back to 1982 levels.)

 

-- -- --

 

Alevizos' mother, Helen, came to Canada from Greece when she was 17, to work as a nanny. Helen returned to her hometown of Nefpaktos a few years later, met Tom Asimakopoulos, and got married. After exchanging "I dos," the couple moved to Montreal, had two children and opened their first eatery, not necessarily in that order.

Eight years later the family was on the go again, this time to Kenora, Ont., where Tom opened Ted's Cafe, at the corner of Second Avenue and Matheson Street. (We know, we know; who's Ted?)

After spending six years in Kenora, the Asimakopouloses moved to Manitoba, primarily for their sake of their daughters' educations.

"Dad wanted us to go to university, so he thought it would be best if we came to Winnipeg sooner than later," says Alevizos, who was 14 when her family bought a home in Charleswood.

Initially, Tom was partners with his brother at a diner in St. Vital. But in 1981, Tom and his sibling -- who also owned Maxime's on St. Mary's Road -- parted ways. Tom opened Cosmos in December of that same year.

From the get-go, Cosmos Restaurant was a popular hangout for members of the Winnipeg Jets version 1.0.

"Laurie Boschman, Paul Maclean, Doug Smail -- they all used to come here," says Alevizos, who would get teased by her fellow servers whenever her favourite Jet, Dale "Ducky" Hawerchuk, walked through the door.

"The other girls would be like, 'Roula, Dale's here, Dale's here.' But I was too shy to ask for an autograph. And he was usually with his girlfriend."

Tom and Helen sold the 100-seat locale to Alevizos in 2002. Begrudgingly.

"From the time I was 17, I knew that this was what I wanted to do," Alevizos says. "But it was very difficult convincing my dad of that."

In a bid to dissuade his eldest daughter, Tom escorted her into the parking lot one evening and pointed to the rush hour traffic.

"He told me, 'All of the people in those cars are going home to their families. But my day is just beginning. Is that really what you want?' (Alevizos' parents didn't stay away for too long: Tom still shows up on a daily basis to prepare the pizza dough, while Helen continues to make Cosmos' signature dessert, baklava.)

After 30 years as a waitress, hostess, cook and owner, the mother of two has had a front-row seat to all facets of life -- from new parents who pop by to show off their week-old son or daughter, to grieving widowers who come in and request the booth they once shared with their wife every Friday night.

Alevizos vividly recalls picking up the newspaper this summer and seeing the face of one of her favourite customers staring back at her.

"He was in here three days before he died, laughing and joking," Alevizos says, referring to Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Richard Harris. "He was such a nice man; I felt terrible when I read that."

Every time Valentine's Day rolls around, Alevizos hears from customers who either had their first date at Cosmos or got engaged by the fireplace. Maybe there's something in the tzatziki sauce: Last month, two women who travelled "all the way from East Kildonan" to try the souvlaki spent the majority of their lunch hour trying to convince their waitress -- Alevizos' daughter -- to marry one of their sons.

"We have hosted a few weddings here over the years for people who this place has a special meaning for," Alevizos says.

And did the owner tear up at all the right moments?

"Of course. A wedding's a wedding."

 

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 4, 2012 E3

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