ANGELO PAPPAS the Athenian way

In 1960, when Angelo Pappas was a boy, the USS Enterprise docked in Athens, Greece. As the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, it drew considerable attention. Among those allowed on board for a tour were a troop of Boy Scouts, including Angelo. "The American sailors were above human," he says. "They were human gods."

Now that he is an American himself, and older, his eyes are not so wide with awe. Still, he looks favorably upon Americans. "They are very fair people," he says, meaning that justice is usually served, and they do not think less of him as an immigrant.

Angelo (hard g) was born on Sept. 23, 1947, in Athens. His middle name is Spiro, his father's first name. All his brothers have Spiro for a middle name, too. Likewise, Angelo's sons' middle names are all his first name. And so it goes in Greek families.

Angelo's father was a mechanic in a factory that manufactured appliances, such as stoves. Angelo's parents had 10 children, and his mother was fully occupied taking care of them. Angelo was their eighth child.

The Germans had invaded Greece early during World War II, in the spring of 1941. Greek resources were plundered for the Nazi war effort, and a naval blockade caused food shortages, massive inflation and finally a devastating famine that killed as many as 100,000 people during the winter of 1941-42.

Angelo's three eldest siblings were among those who died of starvation. The youngest of the three was an infant. The only food Angelo's mother could find was the roots of trees, insufficient nourishment for her nursing baby.

Liberation at the end of the war was immediately followed by civil war in Greece, from 1946 to 1949. Angelo was born during this time. Once again food was hard to come by - the Communists controlled food supplies - but this time no one in Angelo's family died.

Growing up, Angelo was athletic. He played soccer, boxed and practiced judo, his passion. That began when he was 10; Angelo was junior national champion of Greece by age 14 and a black belt by 17, the earliest possible age for that honor.

Ironically, judo means "The Gentle Way." Angelo's judo instructors taught him not only techniques of the discipline but also larger lessons. "They taught me how to face people in life," says Angelo, "how to compete in life in a good way."

Because of his involvement with judo, Angelo always wanted to visit Japan. "But I was a poor boy," he says; "my family could not afford it." So at 18, in 1965, he joined the Greek merchant marine, which took him to Japan. His longtime dream was fulfilled.

In the late '60s one of Angelo's older brothers, Apostolos (who now goes by Paul), came to the United States, became a citizen and joined the Army. Stationed at Fort Lewis, he wrote back home to Angelo glowing descriptions of his new life. Angelo decided to join him. Sponsored by Paul, he flew to Seattle in February 1972.

Once settled, he enrolled in North Seattle Community College, which he would attend for four years, studying ESL, public relations, management and communications. They were all useful to him at his job managing the Mirabeau, a French restaurant atop the SeaFirst building on the 46th floor.

Angelo became a U.S. citizen as soon as he could, in 1977. He managed the Mirabeau for 17 years.

Nineteen ninety-one was a big year for Angelo. He bought his own restaurant, and he got married.

Except for him and Paul, all his surviving family members reside in Greece: five siblings and his mother (his father died about 10 years ago). The first several years after coming to America, he visited them regularly.

On a sojourn in 1990, Angelo met a Greek woman named Katerina. It wasn't long before he sponsored her to join him in America.

About that time, the owner of Olympia Pizza & Spaghetti House was planning to retire. He had heard of Angelo, a fellow Greek, and he sought him out to ask him to buy the restaurant. Angelo said yes.

Angelo found a partner, Bob Kokkovas, and the two acquired Olympia Pizza in June 1991. Then Angelo and Katerina flew to Greece and got married in an Athens courthouse. Two years later, they repeated the ceremony in Albania, in a Greek Orthodox church built by Angelo's great-grandfather.

Angelo and Katerina now have four children, ages 5 to 11. They have not visited Greece in four years because they now have to buy six airline tickets, and Angelo is busy at Olympia Pizza. The restaurant is located at the top of the Counterbalance on Queen Anne.

"Everything is fresh - I buy the produce myself." His test? "Something I won't eat myself, I won't serve."

Angelo loves to peruse cookbooks, "but you can't cook from a book," he says. "Good cooking comes from experience."

Isn't pizza an Italian thing? "No," asserts Angelo. "It originated in Greece. The Romans took it." Traditionally Greek pizza is vegetarian and has less cheese on it. The Romans added meat and piled on the cheese.

In 1998, catastophe hit. The building that houses Olympia Pizza was built in 1904. It had a flat roof covered with many layers of tar, and three dropped ceilings. Winding through the dark spaces between them were old wires, perhaps not original, but at least 50 years old. Two wires crossed and ignited, and Olympia Pizza burned to the ground. Fortunately, this occurred after hours and no one was hurt.

It took nine months to rebuild. Now the restaurant has a cleaner, lighter look, with a patio outside for sunny days.

Earlier this year, Kokkovas sold his portion of the business to Angelo and moved out of state. As sole proprietor now, Angelo has less time to practice judo, but the pizza and pasta are as good as ever.

Angelo speaks six languages: Greek, English and Spanish fluently, and some Italian, French and Japanese. The French came in handy at the Mirabeau. The Japanese he learned while practicing judo.

He is interested in the history of judo and other martial arts, and reads up on the subject. He also likes taiko, the Japanese drumming that often accompanies judo performances.

Traditionally taiko was a scarecrow of sorts: men stood in the fields and beat drums to scare birds away from the crops. Now it is a purely ceremonial artform.

Angelo's taste in music is wildly diverse. Besides taiko, he likes Greek music, such as what is heard in "Zorba the Greek," which he says is fairly authentic. He likes Latin music, too - salsa and mambo - and American country music. That's all he listens to in his car. "I love Johnny Cash," he says.

This summer Angelo especially enjoyed watching the Olympics, since they were held in his birthplace. He cheered on athletes from both his homelands.

But he was saddened to see that the house in which he grew up is now surrounded by three stadiums, and he has long been dismayed by the accelerated decay of the ruins on the Parthenon, caused by pollution. When he was young, the stars were so thick and clear, "I thought they would fall on my head," he remembers. Not anymore.

"My father taught me to go straight forward," says Angelo.

Despite the hardship he experienced and the changes for the worse that he sees occurring in his native Greece, he cherishes his ancient roots. But when he came to America, he came straight here.[[In-content Ad]]