For 30 years, it was a Friday evening ritual. Christos Tsaganis, the owner and patriarch of Christo’s Restaurant in Brockton, would step solemnly to the microphone and announce: “Donovan, party of four, the Gold Room.”
For that party of four — my parents Tom and Rose Fahey, and my aunt and uncle Fran and Margie Donovan, all of Randolph — and many others like them, a trip to the Crescent Street eatery on the East side of Brockton was a chance to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation, or, in the case of my family, just simply the beginning of the weekend.
Christo’s was their “Cheers” — a place where everybody knew their name, from Tsaganis to longtime hostess Joyce Parker, to the waitresses who became their friends.
Tsaganis died last Feb. 4 at 87, and on Nov. 20, his daughter Gigi Johnson, who co-owns the restaurant with sister Maria Samson, announced that the restaurant will close on Dec. 31 after almost 50 years of operation.
Johnson said that her father had agreed to sell the building to Massasoit Community College a year ago, and that the paperwork and the process for the college to buy the property had only recently been completed. She said she believed the size of the 450-seat facility and cost of maintaining it were factors in his decision.
Meanwhile, plans are in place for a take-out facility in Whitman to open in February, and she is still looking for a smaller restaurant location in the Brockton area, said Johnson, who hopes to take present staff members to both locations.
“It’s already very emotional,” she said in an interview shortly after announcing the closing. “We’re lucky that it’s busy and we’re keeping ourselves occupied. We’re excited about the future, but it’s impossible not to be sad.”
Johnson said that, over the years, the lives of her customers and staff have become inextricably entwined.
“We know each other’s kids’ names, we know each other’s kids’ birthdays and achievements,” she said. “It’s not lip service when we say this is a family.”
That family included Fran Donovan, who often crowed about Christo’s seafood (“The broiled scrod was to die for”), while wife Margie favored the Southern fried chicken. Tom Fahey swore by the scallop casserole, and Rose the sirloin steak — “the best steak on the South Shore,” according to her husband.
On many of those visits, the Donovan party was served by Gail Donovan, 67, of Brockton, no relation, who has been a waitress at Christo’s for 29 years.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Gail Donovan said recently. “It’s a wonderful establishment, and the family has been very good to everyone in the community. They’ve always been there for anyone who worked at the restaurant.”
Christo’s offered a good drink, pizza, seafood, All-American comfort food, Greek specialties including lamb and shish-kebob, and the enormous Greek salad that prompted former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, a close friend of Tsaganis’s, to dub him “The Greek Salad King.” You can still buy Christo’s Greek salad dressing in most supermarkets.
Tsaganis was inducted into the Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Food Industry Hall of Fame in 2007.
Part of what attracted people to the restaurant and kept them coming back was the tale of Tsaganis himself, the classic American immigrant success story. He was a veteran of the Greek army in World War II who left Greece in 1953 at age 27 with $8 in his pocket, not knowing a word of English, on a month-long trip bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia.
He eventually found his way to Brockton, where he first found modest success with a restaurant called Peter’s Lunch, before he opened Christo’s in 1964. When it first opened, the restaurant had two rooms and seated 120, and he eventually expanded it to 450 seats, adding several rooms and giving them color-coded names, including the ornately decorated “Gold Room.”
At its peak, the restaurant had 150 employees, making it one of Brockton’s largest employers; Johnson said 85 people still work there.
In 1978, Tsaganis opened Christo’s II, a function hall next door to his restaurant, which was sold to Massasoit Community College in 1996 and reopened as the Massasoit Conference Center.
Laurie Maker, a spokeswoman for Massasoit, said the Christo’s property may be the site of a $27.4 million Allied Health and Science Building that would become part of the college’s expanding north campus.
“The Tsaganis family has been a longtime strong supporter of the college, and that wonderful relationship continues to this day,” she said.
Tsa ganis was a legendary philanthropist, supporting a variety of causes and serving on many boards and committees.
Johnson said she hasn’t decided yet whether there will be a special ceremony when Auld Lang Syne is played for the restaurant on New Year’s Eve, but it’s almost a sure bet that some of the last few meals that day will be served with a side order of tears.
In the end, a restaurant is just a building, and Johnson said she just knows that wherever she goes, the spirit of both her mother, Bessie, who died in 1986, and her father, along with the memories of the last 50 years, will go with her.
“My dad is right alongside me even now,” she said.Rich Fahey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.