Described as a force of nature, a man who moved to the beat of his own Greek drums by transforming a greasy spoon into an iconic Richmond gathering space known for heaping plates of spaghetti, Nick Kafantaris bought Joe’s Inn in the Fan District in 1977.
For the better part of more than 40 years, Joe’s Inn was his lifeblood, his loved ones said. An institution of his own doing, the restaurant on North Shields Avenue became a place that nourished his body and fed his soul.
He and his sister, Stella Kafantaris Dikos of Stella’s fame, led the way in Richmond’s dining scene long before the city was a food destination.
A native of Greece, Mr. Kafantaris died Sunday night after an eight-month battle with leukemia. He was 76.
Tina Kafantaris, who now owns Joe’s Inn, recalled Monday that her father was a fighter, “someone who forged his own path.”
“He really just holds that spot as a sort of larger-than-life character,” she said. “He was a bull of a person — loud, boisterous.”
Tina Kafantaris said her father lived in an apartment above the restaurant for decades until just recently. Still, the family would take him to Joe’s Inn on Saturday mornings before the restaurant opened for brunch, so he could eat without others around.
“It was heartbreaking — he wanted nothing more than to be sitting in Joe’s Inn just talking to people,” Tina Kafantaris said.
Katie Price, who has worked at Joe’s Inn for 18 years and is one of the restaurant’s managers, recalled Mr. Kafantaris as a complicated man who didn’t mind barking orders at staff members, even if he didn’t know them. Over the years, the two forged a friendship.
“He became part of my life at Joe’s more than anybody else,” she said. Because he lived upstairs, “he was the one person I’d see every morning, [and] if I didn’t see his face show up for coffee, I panicked.”
Price said staff members are trying to come to grips with a restaurant void of Mr. Kafantaris’ presence — and that even on his grumpiest days, just having him there was part of the Joe’s Inn experience.
“So many of us are so sad,” Price said. “He was so loved in that place.”
Hanover County resident Otis Fulton recalled fond memories of family dinners at Joe’s Inn. His family spent so much time there that a plaque hung on the wall at the booth where they always sat. It read: “Fulton Party of Six.”
When asked how often his family frequented the restaurant, Fulton offered this: Many years ago, while doing his taxes, he calculated that the family had spent more money at Joe’s Inn that year than they had buying groceries.
“We were there a lot,” he said, noting that Mr. Kafantaris was simply a part of the restaurant’s charm.
“He had some rough edges, but he was kind of a force of nature,” Fulton said.
Said his daughter: “This is obviously a loss to the Joe’s Inn community. The restaurant was his whole life.”
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Kafantaris is survived by three other daughters, Athena Kafantaris of Vermont, Suzanne Kafantaris of Pittsburgh and Maria Jasinkiewicz of Richmond; a son, Michael Kafantaris, of Richmond; and seven grandchildren. A celebration of life will be held at a later date.