George and Irene

Meet George and Irene, Cathy’s parents, and hear about their settling in America and opening the United Restaurant with fellow Greek immigrants and lifelong friends.

From Greece to the US


  • My parents met - it was an arranged marriage. My father came here at 14 and worked very hard and became successful and then he went back to Greece at the age of 35, and they introduced him to different women. Now he was very handsome. He had green eyes and sort of grayish temples. One of the most beautiful men in the world. Everyone loved my father. He helped people. I hear still things about him that surprise me. His goodness. He goes and sees my mother, and he told me that she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She had many brothers and a sister here in New York. They got married, and he brought her here. He had a restaurant in New Haven. We grew up listening about the brothers and sisters and, of course, they were heroic because he had left them. There were no aggravations - only good memories. My father’s sisters gave him their gold coins so he could come here and have a better life. My father’s father was the village priest. So that was a very important thing. And my father would chant sometimes in the house. He was a chanter in the church. I could hear him. That was very sweet too. And we heard about all these relatives. I saw pictures of them. My father talked more about his siblings. He really missed them because he left at a young age at 14, and they really sent him here. For every dollar he made, he would keep 5 cents and return the rest to Greece, and with that money, they educated his brother and his sisters had dowries. And during the war, the church was bombed, and he helped rebuild it. He was very devoted to his family.


  • He wanted a wife. He worked so hard, and he went back to get married. He wanted a Greek wife. My mother became very Americanized. I mean, she was very Greek in her ways. She was a great cook. She was a beautiful woman. But she was very strict. She was very stylish. She wore hats, gloves, pins. She was really the most beautiful woman in church. My father said to me - even in her 90s - he said, she still is. Lisa wanted me to tell you the story about the hands because he told me that he did look at their hands. If he saw a woman with nail polish and long nails, he knew that it wouldn’t work for him because that type of woman didn’t appeal to him. My mother didn’t wear any, and he liked that - plus he said she was the most beautiful he had ever seen.


  • The rumor was that there was gold in the streets in America. My father’s goddaughter was here earlier and wrote a book called, ‘Gold in the Streets’. He came, but he worked very hard. (He came through) Ellis Island. He got over in a boat. He met two men – they were both from Crete. They were partners. They loved each other a great deal. They bought apartments together. They all settled together, and they were very, very close. When my dad was in his 90’s, one of the partners was blind. He would come touch my father, and he would be crying. The children all played together - we were close.


  • My mother didn’t know English. I’ll tell you a funny story. When my father married my mother. My mother is extremely lucky. First of all, to get my father and to come to this country and to be so beautiful. But she has always been lucky. Things have always just fallen (right for her). But she comes and she goes through Ellis Island, and she is on the boat. She is starting to get sea sick, and she’s feeling queasy. And the porter comes to her and says to her in English “Are you alright?” Now the Greek word for “what” is “tee”? And she says “tee?” And he brings her some tea. She says, “Oh, these Americans are so nice.”


  • Her knight in shining armor came. She got out of that place and came to America. And loved it. She went to the beauty parlor every week. She did it all right. Of course, I had a godmother too – remember I told you my father’s partner? His wife was from New York City, born here, so she was very sophisticated - very well dressed, tall, elegant. My mother had a good role model as far as dressing. Her daughter took piano lessons; I took piano lessons. Whatever they did, I did.

image-1

Ellis Island records show George coming back to NY with his bride in 1933


The United Restaurant


  • I think my father first went to Chicopee, Springfield to work at a factory because there was a relative there - a cousin, I think. But he didn’t like it. He couldn’t work in the factory. It was very hard for him because he was from a farm and outdoors. He wanted to be his own boss. He partnered with these two men and opened The United Restaurant which was across the street from Yale University. They made their own food. They’d serve steaks. Delicious big, thick steaks. But their pies, they were famous for their pies. They did everything. Strawberry shortcakes. I used to go in the back booth and peel the strawberries for him. I used to clean them with my friend Hopie, the partner’s daughter. We used to laugh. It became very popular. All the Yale students would be there. You would even have to wait around the block sometimes to get in. My brother was a waiter there for a while, and he said Grace Kelly would come because the Shubert was down the street. It was an interesting life. My mother would never let me work there but I took cash there for a couple years but not much. They sold it in the 60’s.


  • My father’s name was George Maniatakis. My mother’s maiden name was Irene Georgeokakis. Anyone from the island of Crete, their name ends in “akis” which means ‘son of’. Like Johnson. But the Cretans had the kis at the end. My father’s partner, who was my godfather, was Michael Contorenus. I loved him too. He used to call me ‘petalouda’ which is the Greek word for ‘butterfly’. I loved being with them. The other one was Nicolas Psorakis.


  • The United Restaurant on York Street. In fact, someone wrote a book, I think it was called “50 Yards from Yale”. One of the waiters. And he wrote poetry - he did poetry about my green eyes. “Cathy with the green eyes.” It was really kind of an interesting thing. He was a Greek immigrant, but he had this flair. My brother did work there as a waiter with my father. When I talk to my brother about it, he says, “Cathy those were the most wonderful years of my life. I was with dad all the time. Then, these people would come in.” Of course, my brother was very handsome too. He was 6 feet tall and charming. Everybody loved him, and he had a great time there. I remember, as a little girl, my mother would take me to the movies which was right near his restaurant. We would go to the movies every Saturday. She would send me in to see if the restaurant was busy because if it was busy, we couldn’t eat there. But If it wasn’t, we would sit there and have dinner. I would go into the restaurant, as a little child - I remember, I couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 - and I would see my father working very hard. He would look up and see my face, and his whole face changed. I have those visions. My sister has the same visions.


  • They (the partners) had their shifts. They loved each other so much. One would say, “George go home to your wife, I’ll stay and do your shift.” George would stay longer so that the other wouldn’t have to work so hard. It was one of those things. They each did their share. I don’t know quite what it was. I think my godfather did the pies. They did very well. They invested in the stock market a lot. They bought two apartment buildings - big ones in New Haven - and they were collecting rent. I would go with my dad and give out the receipts. They made money, but I know a lot of it went to Greece even after we were born.

image-1

Partners at the United Restaurant: Mr. Maniatakis (l.), Mr. Psorakis (r.), Mr. Contorenus (seated r.)


Remembering Irene and George


  • She was strong willed. She would go down one-way streets the wrong way. I’d say, “Mother, it’s one way.” She’d say, “I made it two.” She was not a very compassionate woman. She was very kind, but it was always her way. I was lenient – very loving, lenient. I touched my children and hugged them. My father was that way. I am much more like my dad, I hope, I think. Every so often my mother comes out in me. She is a one-liner, and there is just nothing, no bending. But my friends laugh when I say these things to them. I have a friend who is a Jungian therapist, and she has written many books. She goes on and on about things, and I will just give it to her in one sentence. She laughs, of course. She says, “There goes Mrs. Maniatakis.” But I am always on target. My mother had a great sense of humor too. She just said it like it was. Sometimes those one-liners. She got it. Like my mother-in-law would be depressed and she’d say, “She can’t be too depressed because she eats well.”


  • She (my mother) died about 4 years ago around Christmastime. We had a person live with her. In fact, when I brought the person in and told her that she was going to have to be with her, she almost got up to hit me. She was a strong woman. She wanted to slap me. She wanted me to sell my house and come live with her because I was without a husband. She felt entitled. I think that’s a Greek thing also. The mothers expect their children to take care of them. But she took very good care of us too. She (the woman who took care of my mother) was Polish, but she was religious. She took my mother to the Catholic Church which my mother is not. But my mother said, “We are all one god.” She was good that way.


  • I remember a hurricane coming in the 40s, and I remember a lot of pears had fallen from the tree. Little sickle pears and I gathered them for my mother, and she made this incredible (dish). She put them in a jar with syrup. We stuffed them with almonds, and we ate them. I make them now too. I remember that. I might have been 4 years old. That’s another thing she gave us too, and we didn’t even know it. Our dinners were always there. We always had fabulous meals. We always sat down (together). She was always well dressed. I never saw my mother in slippers or sloppy. Always clean. She’d say, “Come on, let’s do this.” I would hold the phyllo for her for the baklava. I would chop things for her, peel the garlic, that kind of thing. But I never really cooked until I got married. And my husband loved to eat, and everything I did was better than his mothers. He just encouraged me.


  • My mother was very religious, and my father’s father was the priest. But my father was much more of a thinker. My mother made us fast. She made us take communion. My father didn’t believe in all that. He just said be a good human being.


  • My father, of course, was the most revered for me. I couldn’t wait for him to come home. In fact, I remember him when I was a baby. I could hear him coming up the stairs just to check up on us while we were sleeping. I could feel his touch. Amazing. Well, don’t forget, he waited until he was 35 to have a child. And there he has this beautiful wife and then, I am born. And his world is so different. Everything was about hope and love, and that’s what I received. So, when I hear all these stories now, it so saddens me that the world is not like that. He was so kind and good and loving. He didn’t try and give us things. He gave us goodness and love - unconditional love, and I knew that if my mother wasn’t so strict, he could care less what I did. He trusted me totally. Whereas my mother didn’t. She is probably right. Who knows what would have happened? I was a virgin in heat. But I was the first born, and I had to do a lot of breakthroughs. I couldn’t wear lipstick. She was reluctant to send me to college although my father wanted me to go. She didn’t want me to get away.


  • When my father died, we all took turns to be with him when he was dying. I mean, I couldn’t get enough of him. I crawled into bed with him and held him. Then my brother would stay there and say, “it’s my turn.” I saw my brother carrying him to the bathroom. My father with such dignity. It was just awful. We had time together. I said to my brother, “You know, John. I was so lucky to be the first one because dad just cherished me. I always felt like I was special for him.” John said, “You know Cathy. I felt the same thing. I felt like I was the boy he wanted. I took him to my office in California, and he was so proud. I felt so lucky to have worked with him. I had those extra times with him and I saw how he was with people.” Then Effie who really gotten the worst part of my mother. Effie had a rough deal. I had a rough deal too because I wasn’t the girl my mother wanted either. I was flirty. Effie said, “I felt I was dad’s favorite because mother was so hard on me that he always took me under his wing and brought out the best in me.” I agreed with her that he did lean over for her. Then, so the one that was spoiled by my mother said to me, “You know Cathy, I always felt I was dad’s favorite even though I was mother’s favorite. Dad went overboard for Effie just to compensate, but I knew I was there.” So, we all thought we were his favorite. In due respect, my mother set it up that way too. She could have said, like other women did, “He works so hard. He’s always away. He’s no good.” But she always revered him and she said, “He’s working for us. He’s working hard.”

image-1
Mom and Dad with me and John, 1937

Additional Gallery