John Pantelis Karsos, who with his wife owned and operated a popular York Road restaurant for more than three decades, died of a stroke Saturday at his Towson home. He was 86.
Mr. Karsos, the son of farmers, was born and raised in Kambia on the Greek island of Chios. Educated in Kambia, Mr. Karsos served in the Greek army during the Korean War.
In 1963, he immigrated to New York City with his wife, the former Kyriaki Fotenos, whom he had married in 1954.
He went to work in a restaurant owned by his sister-in-law and later furthered his culinary training working for a brother-in-law at his Culpeper, Va., restaurant.
After moving to Greektown in Southeast Baltimore in 1966, the couple purchased the County Coffee Shop in the 400 block of York Road in the heart of Towson, renamed it the County Restaurant and added dishes to the menu from their homeland.
"He was basically a self-taught cook," said his son, Peter I. Karsos of Towson, now a mortgage banker, who worked alongside his parents in the business, prepping and cleaning. "They were open from 5 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and served breakfast, lunch and dinner."
The son said the restaurant was a popular destination for Baltimore County workers, police officers and WMAR-TV employees.
"He'd even stay late to feed the homeless who were hungry," he said.
When a snowstorm blanketed Towson, county crews made certain the sidewalk in front of the restaurant was swept clear of snow.
The restaurant was known for its daily specials.
"Mondays was beef stew day and Tuesdays and Wednesdays were Greek specialties. On Thursdays, it was spare ribs, and Fridays it was lamb shish kebab, flounder and veal parmigiana. On Saturday, our special was spaghetti and meatballs," the son said.
"Dad did the cooking and Mom made the desserts, such as rice pudding, coconut pie and baklava," he said.
The couple, who became U.S. citizens in 1972, were affectionately called "Mr. John" and "Mrs. K" by longtime patrons.
"It was a typical 1950s-style neighborhood eatery that served meals that were quick and inexpensive. What set it apart from its competitors in those days was the inclusion of Greek specialties during the week," said James A. Genthner, now retired from the State Highway Administration, who dined there at least once a week during the 1970s.
Customers could eat at the counter or at comfortable tables and booths.
"I first learned to appreciate moussaka and pastisio at their restaurant, and it was as good as any I've had over the years. I've eaten no better," Mr. Genthner said.
"The restaurant was a wonderfully old-fashioned place. It was a real bit of Americana, where regular folks stopped in for a bite to eat," he said. "It was definitely not a place for folks in designer clothes looking for some wine and brie."
Mr. Genthner recalled the couple, who were always dressed in white aprons, as "hardworking, who did everything they could to please their customers."
"They were kind and patient and the food was served promptly and hot. Mr. and Mrs. K knew the meaning of 'fast food,' " he said.
The couple sold the business in 1999 and retired.
"When they closed, it was one of the last vestiges of the old Towson, and its closing marked the end of an era," Mr. Genthner said.
Mr. Karsos' son said, "My father was loved by all and a perfect example of reaping what you sow."
Mr. Karsos enjoyed attending wrestling matches.
He was a member of the Greek Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 2504 Cub Hill Road, Parkville.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Karsos is survived by three grandchildren.