When Arthur Alimonos left Greece for America in 1953, the 19-year-old learned he had two options: work in a restaurant washing dishes or make twice as much money working in a factory.
Alimonos started scrubbing.
“He wanted to create his own future,” said son Dino Alimonos. “He wanted to be a business owner.”
Alimonos saw that the next step toward his dream was to become a cook. So he started working for free on his days off, watching the chef closely, asking questions, taking notes.
One day, the chef got sick. Alimonos convinced the manager that he knew the recipes.
“He worked that night,” said daughter Bessie Alimonos, “and the customers actually gave compliments to the manager about the chef.”
Within six months, Alimonos was working as a cook.
By his death of natural causes on March 17, Alimonos, 90, had opened and run multiple restaurants and a hotel. His sons now run the Largo and New Port Richey locations of Country Pizza Italian Grill. One of his daughters retired when the Countryside location of the restaurant closed in 2019. His other daughter is still running the hotel Alimonos built in Sparta, Greece.
“His lesson — nothing is easy,” said Bessie Alimonos. “You fight.”
Home and back again
Alimonos grew up in a village just outside of Sparta, one of six kids who lost their father when Alimonos was 5.
Growing up poor stayed with him.
“I think he always kind of felt a little bit haunted by poverty, the idea of poverty, and so I think he always worked really hard,” said son Nick Alimonos.
Alimonos opened his first restaurant in Brooklyn, then another in Harford, Connecticut. He met his future wife, Angeliky, in Greece, and the couple had three of their four children, Bessie, Helen and Dino. Their father’s goal was to make enough money to move the family back to Greece, and in 1968, they did.
In Sparta, he opened Hotel Lakonia and impressed family and friends as the village boy who became a business owner. But Alimonos found he missed life, and the opportunities, in the U.S. In 1974, he asked his kids how they felt about moving back to the States.
“We flew straight to Clearwater,” said Dino Alimonos.
There, he started over again and the couple had their fourth child. In 1977, he opened his first restaurant in Clearwater and spent the next several decades experimenting with different concepts and facing the ups and downs of the restaurant industry.
Through it, Alimonos kept on working.
“He never looked at the clock,” said Bessie Alimonos, who worked with her dad for 43 years. “He worked seven days a week. He loved what he did.”
The old ways
Alimonos did things the old-fashioned way, said Nick Alimonos.
He grew citrus trees in his backyard, played the bouzouki and made food the way he learned in Greece.
He mixed his sauces by hand, leaving them to simmer for hours to remove the bitterness. He made his own Italian sausages and dough from scratch, stretching it by hand.
He also added his own touch to popular dishes, including the restaurant’s lasagna that’s made with bechamel sauce.
“It became one of the most popular dishes,” said Bessie Alimonos. “To this day, people just love it.”
Mary Daher worked at the Clearwater location for 35 years and remembers a boss who always wanted to make sure everything was just right.
“It all showed up in his restaurant,” she said.
One year, when a hurricane spun toward Tampa Bay, Alimonos decided to stay open. Daher worked with him and watched as people who’d lost power started coming in.
“He always wanted to make sure he was there for his customers.”
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.