Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 8 (Uncle Tony Gust & The Naousa Connection)

What's in crate of lettuce, a few loaves of bread or a plate of stewed chicken? 90-100 years or ago, many Greeks in Stockton were in produce or had grocery stores or restaurants. In fact, the 1927 Stockton telephone directory listed no fewer than 15 Greek-related restaurants/candy stores. And today many of us can trace our roots right back to one of those businesses.

My grandmother Pauline Xanttopulos and her sister Eleni Huntalas were the Koutsoukis sisters from Naousa; another sister, Maria, remained in Greece. Their brother Antonios K. Koutsoukis was in business w/his brother-in-law Gus Huntalas and became a successful produce guy in Stockton with the memorable name of Tony Gust -- probably the combination of his first name and middle initial (father named Kostantinos). Uncle Tony died young in 1945, and until recently I had only vague knowledge of his story.

There were several families in Stockton from Naousa, a small town in the foothills of the Vermion mountains of Macedonia -- about 45 miles from Thessaloniki -- which was not liberated from the Ottoman Empire till 1912. Mitsanis (Mitchell), Lucas, Chiarchianis, Koutsoukis, and later Vezaldenos are Naoussa names. I had heard from Angelo Mitchell a couple of years ago that Uncle Tony was Best Man for his father Stavros, who came from Naousa in 1907 and to Stockton in 1909. And when I visited w/Flossie and Angelaon 11/26 to look at old photographs, I hit the jackpot. There in the the oldest album was a Mitsanis wedding picture w/Uncle Tony Gust (shown in upper left, picture  unfortunately distorted by plastic picked up by my scanner).
Channel St. Produce Mkt. 2014
Uncle Tony was a popular guy who unfortunately (long story) never married, as I'm told by my various aunts. The Huntalases moved to Tracy in 1948, where they had a grocery store. The produce business - first at 133 N. Wilson Way and then at 1620 E. Channel -- was taken over by the Thomas Brothers. My father Steve worked for them and a few other produce people...until he, too, got into the grocery business with his koumbaro, George Marmas (a Chioti from Hibbing, MN), at the S&G Market on Yosemite Street.

Wish I had actually met Uncle Tony Gust, but the Naousa Connection is alive and well in Stockton. Any more families to add to the list? Please let me know!  

NOTE: Have to mention that Flossie and Angela treated me and Gayle Maduros to what they called "Spanakopizza" (with olive oil in the crust) from Joe's Pomodoro Pizza Cafe, which continues the Stockton Greeks & Food Tradition. It was totally awesome and JP's is on my restaurant short-list for my next Stockton visit -- OPA!

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