Son regrets that he and father worked side-by-side, but never saw eye-to-eye

June 20, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Nick Filipidis wants to know: How can a guy spend his entire life with his father and never feel like he knew the man?

It's not a question that vexes Mr. Filipidis simply because today is Father's Day.

It is something he thinks about all the time.

"I worked alongside my father every day for the majority of my life," says Mr. Filipidis, who grew up in Jimmy's Restaurant at 801 S. Broadway, the diner his Greek-immigrant father started in 1944. "But there's so much I just don't understand. I try to figure it out and get angry, sad or sentimental. I miss him."

The worst thing that ever happened to Nick Filipidis, he says, was his Dad's death in 1987.

To this day, the heavy Old World accent of his father's voice swims through his head.

"Always," said Mr. Filipidis yesterday, his eyes welling up in an office above the family business, tears of love and frustration for a tough old man. "I hear it all the time."

And they weren't even close.

Not like little Nicky always wanted them to be.

Or believes they could have been if his father hadn't worked himself to death becoming a success in America.

"He worked every day from the time he woke up until the time he went to sleep," said Mr. Filipidis, 47. "I was with him most of the time -- near him physically, but I wasn't really with him, if you know what I mean. His mind was always on something else, always on work. He had something driving him, and I never

found out what it was."

James Nicholas Filipidis was born on the Greek island of Andros in 1916.

He left the family village and went to sea when he was 16, eventually making his way to New York, where he went to work for an uncle who owned a diner in Hastings-on-the-Hudson in 1937. When World War II erupted, he joined the Army, which traded him citizenship for his service.

Discharged with chronic ulcers in 1942, Jimmy Filipidis came to Baltimore to work for another uncle, a man named Odesseos who ran a hot dog stall in the old Broadway Market shed.

After a few years with his uncle, Mr. Filipidis bought a candy store on the southeast corner of Broadway and Lancaster Street, renamed it Jimmy's, and ran it as a confectionery with his wife Helen.

The couple sold groceries, comic books, over-the-counter medicines, women's hosiery, breakfast, hamburgers, submarine sandwiches, milkshakes and hot dogs served at the counter or through a window that opened to the sidewalk.

The couple worked hard, had four kids, and made money.

In 1955, Uncle Odesseos died and left Jimmy Filipidis a restaurant on the northeast corner of Broadway and Lancaster, now a rock club called Max's on Broadway. In 1960, Mr. Filipidis turned the building into a nightclub called the Acropolis, a seaman's bar known for belly-dancers who did the shimmy-and-shake from table to table.

Running two businesses was not enough, and about 1962, Mr. Filipidis bought 64 acres in Harford County and made it a working farm of pigs, chickens, cows and sheep.

Whether at Jimmy's, the Acropolis, or the farm, the family was expected to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the head of the house, a man who simply could not stand idle.

Because the work never ended, Nick Filipidis grew to hate the restaurant and the farm. He joined the Army and later went away to college.

After a particularly bad argument in 1976, father and son didn't talk to one another for some time. Nick left the family business to work for the gas and electric company until the older man stopped his son one day and said he wanted to give him the restaurant.

The boy turned the gift down, offering to buy it instead.

Said Nick: "I never would have felt it was mine."

Although retired, Jimmy Filipidis stayed on at the restaurant to help. He didn't really slow down until early 1987, when a doctor said he had cancer of the stomach and liver.

He lived for six weeks and died on April 25, 1987, at the age of 71.

Looking back, Nick remembers a good man with a soft heart and a hard head.

He said: "My father was the kind of guy who only knew one way to drive a nail -- grab a hammer and bang it."

Today is Father's Day, and Nick Filipidis has planned a picnic with his wife, his son and his in-laws.

And somewhere in the back of his mind, Nick will hear the voice of a stern man with a thick accent who never had time for such foolishness as picnics or ballgames or trips to the zoo.

"Father's Day was just another work day for him," said Mr. Filipidis. "If I had ever asked him to go on a picnic, he would have said: 'You want hot dogs? Grill 'em here.'"

Mr. Filipidis nurses a lot of heartache, but he doesn't blame his father. He doesn't think his old man knew any other way.

But he does wish his Dad were around to witness how the old business has prospered.

Not to count the cash at the end of the day, but to see for himself that his only son is a success -- a businessman who serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner to thousands of people every week; whose clientele includes U.S. senators and the governor of Maryland; who just this month was host to the First Lady of the United States when Hillary Rodham Clinton ate at Jimmy's on a visit to Baltimore.

Said Mr. Filipidis: "My father wasn't one to give praise. He never told me: 'You did good.' "

The father of a 17-year-old -- a kid who just happens to be named Jimmy -- Nick Filipidis is asked if he ever tells the boy that he's proud of him.

"All the time," he said. "A man's self-confidence doesn't just come from himself."

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