PITTSTON — Though he had been retired since 1998, most of the time, one couldn’t visit Majestic Lunch without seeing Stanley Salavantis.
Stanley, 93, died on July 17 at Golden Living Center in Plains Township, where he was surrounded by his family.
He owned the Majestic Lunch in Pittston for over 40 years and still maintained a presence there after his retirement.
Debbie Valkos, an employee at Majestic Lunch for over 30 years, said it will be hard moving forward without him.
“It’s going to be tough but I look at it this way, everything I learned here I learned it from him,” she said. “Growing up, sometimes instead of running to my dad, I would run to him. He would give you the shirt off his back.”
Stanley was born in North Adams, Massachusetts, in 1922. He served in World War II from 1943 to 1946, and fought in the European Theatre, a huge area of heavy fighting across Europe.
After his service ended, Stanley returned to the United States and met his wife, Nitsa, whom he eventually married in New York City. The couple had three children: Harry Salavantis, Helen Salavantis, and Mary Knaus.
Stanley spent his time working in restaurants and getting familiar with the business.
The family relocated to Pittston in 1954, deeming New York an unsafe environment for them after Harry was kidnapped out of their apartment one day by a man posing as his uncle when his parents were at work, according to Nitsa.
The Salavantis family lived in Pittston for one year before moving to West Pittston and then to Pittston Township.
According to a 1998 Sunday Dispatch story, the Majestic Lunch storefront has been in Pittston since 1898, when it was a confectioner shop.
In the 1920s it was taken over by a Greek immigrant named Frank Peos, who first turned it into a restaurant.
After Peos, it was sold to the Greek family the Georgidas, and then the Greek Stathakis family.
Although it is unknown who started making the chili sauce, by the 1930s, Majestic Lunch became renowned for its Texas Weiners and the chili sauce that came with them.
Upon moving to Pittston, Stanley, along with his sister Dena Lekas and her husband, John, bought Majestic Lunch from the Stathakis family before they moved back to Greece.
John retired in 1960 and Stanley took over as sole owner. According to Nitsa, the chili sauce recipe has remained the same over the years.
“He did the same recipe from the beginning,” she said. “It didn’t change.”
‘Always helping people’
Stefanie Salavantis, Luzerne County District Attorney and Stanley’s granddaughter, said Stanley was all about the business and his family.
“He was a very hard worker,” she said. “Along with my grandmother they dedicated everything to the job and were part of the community. To this day people come up to me and talk about how they pretty much were raised by my grandparents, because their parents would drop them off at the Majestic and go to movies. At that time Majestic was open for 24 hours.”
According to Helen, the restaurant remained open 24 hours until the 1970s when Stanley decided to implement hours, which would change over time.
“On weeknights he’d close at midnight and on weekends he’d close at 2 in the morning,” said Knaus. “He’d open at 6 in the morning, go home and take a nap in the afternoon and then come back. He worked 18-hour days.”
During Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 Majestic Lunch was a go-to place for people in need of food and water.
“My husband was always helping people,” said Nitsa.
All three children worked in the restaurant before moving on to pursue their own careers.
Stanley wanted to make sure his children had a strong education. He did not start kindergarten until he was 8 due to an illness that caused him to go deaf as a child. He felt he was too old to graduate high school, so he dropped out, said Knaus.
Despite this, Stanley preached to his children about the importance of education during their time working in the restaurant.
“He approached his employees to try and pursue educations as well,” Helen said.
Stanley retired in 1998 after 44 years of owning Majestic Lunch. It’s owned today by son Harry, but Helen and Knaus contribute when they can.
Even after retirement, Stanley was still a fixture at the restaurant. Stefanie said it was no surprise to anyone that he was still working.
“That was his life,” she said. “It was odd to him when he retired that he wouldn’t be there every day. He still cleaned tables and did work he used to do. He also enjoyed seeing customers because they became family to him and close friends.”
Stanley continued to clean tables, cook food and work like he never called it quits.
“He didn’t have to worry about the day-to-day operations,” said Knaus. “Stuff like who was working and who wasn’t, he passed that stress onto my brother. He was able to come in, help my brother out and make sure the chili was right and the orders were right. He did all of that for my brother.”
Even as he grew older and could not do physical work, he still came to the restaurant to be with family and talk with friends.
With Stanley gone, his legacy will live on through his family and Majestic Lunch, and Valkos said she will always remember one of his favorite sayings to help get through this difficult time.
“He would always say, ‘Better days are coming,’” she said.
In addition to his wife and three children, Stanley leaves behind grandchildren, Ambria Kramer and her husband, Darren; Stefanie and her husband, James McGrady; Steven Salavantis, Jennifer Dompkosky and her husband, David; Brittany Holly and her husband, Jason; Nitsa Payne and her husband, Matthew; Julia Godfrey and her husband, Dr. John, David Knaus; Christina Cavallo-Miller and family; great-grandchildren, Ava, Cole, Eulalie, Kaylie, Peyton, Josephine and Vivian; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher