Fort Wayne restaurateur leaves behind legacy of hospitality

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Family and friends will remember local restaurateur Nikolaos “Nikos” George Hatzigeorgiou at a celebration of life Jan. 12 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

The owner of Friends, Too, 3720 W. Jefferson Blvd., died Jan. 1 at home in Krioneri, Greece.

Hatzigeorgiou

Hatzigeorgiou, 64, had previously been diagnosed with cancer and ALS. His death comes less than two years after the death of his wife, Ana. The couple leaves behind a legacy of hospitality.

Hatzigeorgiou immigrated to America in 1981. He originally came to visit his brother, who arrived in the area as a student, according to his brother-in-law Gregory Raptis. He decided to stay after he met Raptis’ sister Ana at a gathering of young Greek Americans.

“They fell in love immediately,” Raptis said.

The couple had a daughter, Marianthi Hatzigeorgiou and a son, George “Yorgo” Hatzigeorgiou.

Before opening their original Friends restaurant on Dupont Road, Hatzigeorgiou ran a homebuilding business. After the recession, the market took a downturn, and he and Ana decided to go into the restaurant business.

The couple was well-known for their hospitality. Raptis said both Nikos and Ana had a passion for sharing the Greek concept of “philoxenia.” The closest translation in English is “hospitality,” he said, but it goes beyond that; it’s about expressing love, kindness and generosity to strangers.

“My parents never referred to our patrons and customers as that. It was just ‘our friends,’” daughter Marianthi said.

She and her brother have been touched by the outpouring of support and stories on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“We obviously feel that he greatly impacted our lives, and it’s just been a very touching and humbling testament to who he was to read about how he was able to impact others as well,” she said.

Dan Guse, president of the Time Corners Kiwanis Club, remembers the warm welcome Hatzigeorgiou would extend to the club, which meets there on Tuesday mornings.

“They’re good people, and they care about their customers,” he said.

Hatzigeorgiou’s family members recalled his connection to customers, bringing smiles to their faces and asking after grandchildren.

“My dad was the kind of person who always wanted to make people feel comfortable and welcome, and it sounds like he did just that from the stories that have been pouring in,” Marianthi said.

She and her brother want to honor their parents’ legacy by continuing to live by those values.

“My parents raised both of us to live our lives truthfully and honestly with respect to family and everyone we meet,” she said.

They’re thankful for the emphasis their parents placed on education. Hatzigeorgiou’s son, George “Yorgo,” recently graduated from law school, and daughter, Marianthi, earned her master’s degree from the University of Michigan. Both grown children have careers in the Washington, D.C., area.

“It’s very humbling to think of the fact that our father came to the United States in the 1980s and met my mom and created this beautiful community for us through the people that he was able to meet and the lives that he impacted,” Marianthi said.

They plan to keep the restaurant in the family, Raptis said.

A service for Hatzigeorgiou was held in Krioneri, Greece, and he was laid to rest with his wife, Ana, in their family’s plot.

There will be a celebration of life 2-6 p.m. Jan. 12 at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 110 E. Wallen Road, to give family and friends in Fort Wayne the opportunity to celebrate his life. Donations may be made to the church or the ALS Association Indiana Chapter.