John Fangikis

[ Age 87 ] The World War II veteran spent his life co-founding and cooking at some of the area's best-known diners.

January 07, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

John Fangikis, a World War II veteran who co-founded and then spent decades cooking at many of Baltimore County's best-known diners -- including the original Double T and the Bel-Loc-- died Wednesday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care of heart failure. The longtime Towson resident was 87.

Mr. Fangikis opened four restaurants between the early 1950s and mid-1960s in an effort to replicate the gleaming facades and comfort-food fare of New York-style diners. Three of the restaurants are still in business, and Mr. Fangikis continued to visit and cook at the Bel-Loc well into his 80s.

"He loved it," said his daughter, Debra Fangikis of Timonium, who remembers her father being particularly fond of cooking chili and stews. "He loved to train people in the operation of the diner. He loved ordering the food and planning menus and just being in that kitchen."

Born in Monessen, Pa., Mr. Fangikis grew up in Weirton, W.Va., and graduated from Weir High School in 1937. He studied electrical engineering at West Virginia University before moving to Baltimore in 1942 to work as a welder at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard. He married Cynthia Michallas of Timonium in 1942.

Mr. Fangikis served with the 8th Air Force in North Africa and Europe during the war. He flew 25 bombing missions on a B-25, as a co-pilot on earlier flights and then as a gunner. While stationed in Italy, he witnessed the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1944, which stranded many of the aircraft on the U.S. airfield nearby.

After the war, Mr. Fangikis worked in several Baltimore-area restaurants before opening his first diner with a childhood friend, Thomas Doxanas. The partners envisioned opening diners at major intersections near the Baltimore Beltway to attract highway drivers, and methodically pursued that goal.

Their first venture, the original Double T, was on Pulaski Highway just east of the city. The partners opened another Double T on Route 40 in Catonsville just west of the Beltway. A third restaurant on Reisterstown Road was closed. Finally, they opened the Bel-Loc at Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road in the mid-1960s.

"There was always food and menus and people. So many people would come in for years and order the same dish," Debra Fangikis said. "It was something he had in his blood, and he loved it."

Mr. Fangikis told his family that he cooked at the diners for so long because it never felt like work.

"I would have to tell him to leave," joked William Doxanas, Thomas Doxanas' son, who now owns the Bel-Loc. "He just loved to work. He loved cooking, and he was happy -- he was happy over the stove. He was a great help and a great source of knowledge to me."

Location scouts working on Barry Levinson's 1982 classic film Diner approached Mr. Fangikis about shooting at the Catonsville restaurant, but he declined because it would have required him to close the business for too long.

Mr. Fangikis retired in the mid-1980s. He served as vice president of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation parish council, and in 1949 he was the first president of the Lord Baltimore chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. Mr. Fangikis was also a member of the American Legion.

Funeral services were held yesterday at the Cathedral of the Annunciation.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by two other daughters, Annabelle Setren and Roxanne Contarino, both of Timonium; a sister, Betty Vatenos of Rosedale; two granddaughers; and two great-grandchildren.

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