Nicholas S. Varlas, 91, wholesale food distributor Born in Greece, he was noted for patience, humor

October 01, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Staff Writer

Nicholas S. Varlas, a retired wholesale food distributor, died Aug. 24 of cancer at his Towson residence. He was 91.

He retired in 1969 from General Food Supply, which he founded in 1950. He opened his first food business, the O.K. Market on Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, in 1926.

In the late 1930s, Mr. Varlas founded the National Meat Market, also on Eastern Avenue. The store had a slaughterhouse in the rear.

At a time when meat was cut by hand, Mr. Varlas was one of the first butchers in Baltimore to use an electric band saw. He also was one of the first to make deliveries by truck.

Mr. Varlas -- known as "Mr. Nick" -- was a man of patience and good humor, recalled Andy Papaminis, who worked for him while in high school and now is with the Maryland Environmental Service.

"Mr. Nick had me audition for the job and said, 'What's that?' I said, 'It's a pork chop,' and he yelled, 'You're hired!'

"He had lots of patience to put up with us because our minds weren't always on our work," Mr. Papaminis said.

"Sometimes we were careless and the chickens would get loose and run all over Newkirk Avenue."

Another young employee who appreciated the boss was Nicholas Lykos, now a pharmacist in Timonium. "We used to work on Saturdays, which was a busy day," Mr. Lykos said. "When it was lunchtime, we used to go to the White Coffee Pot. With his whole work force depleted, things would get difficult in the store.

"In order to keep us on the job, he hired a Greek cook who would prepare homemade Greek food and we would eat upstairs."

Mr. Varlas was "such a wonderful man," Mr. Lykos said. "I don't know anyone who didn't like him."

Born on the island of Chios, Mr. Varlas received his early education there and earned a degree from a business college in Athens before emigrating to the United States in 1924.

"Dad had a brother in Ohio, and he went there and worked on the railroad one day," said his son, Stanley N. Varlas of Timonium. "While he was eating lunch, a train ran over his shovel, and that ended his railroad career.

"He missed the water; all Greeks love being near the water. So he came to Baltimore in 1926 because of the water and a budding Greek community here."

The elder Varlas lived on Holabird Avenue in Dundalk for 43 years before moving to Towson in 1985. There he pursued gardening.

"He loved growing flowers and had fig trees," said his son. "He enjoyed giving away bouquets and figs to his friends and associates."

He was a member of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation for 60 years and belonged to St. Demetrios Orthodox Church in Towson. He also was active in the Order of AHEPA and the Chios Society of Baltimore.

A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Sunday at St. Demetrios, 2504 Cub Hill Road.

Mr. Varlas is survived by his wife, the former Faye Polites, whom he married in 1935; his son; and many nieces and nephews in Baltimore and Chios.

The family suggested memorial donations to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral or St. Demetrios.

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