PULLMAN — Peter Tritsarolis was raised as a sheep herder in Greece, then worked for years on merchant marine boats helping out in the kitchen. He quickly got into the restaurant business when he moved to Chicago in the ’70s, landing at Cal-Harbor on the Far South Side.
Tritsarolis later became owner and moved Cal-Harbor to 546 E. 115th St., where it’s been since 1997.
“He’s been on the same block since then,” said his wife, Donna Tritsarolis. “He loved what he did. He never wanted to leave the neighborhood.”
Tritsarolis died Dec. 7 after a brief illness. He was 74.
Tritsarolis started at Cal-Harbor as a dishwasher, when the restaurant was about a block away. That’s where he and Donna Tritsarolis met in 1982, and they married two years later.
Tritsarolis dedicated his life to pleasing his customers, adjusting his menu to their preferences, Donna Tritsarolis said. His signature dish was the “Pete’s omelette.”
“It has everything in it. It’s a huge omelet,” Donna Tritsarolis said. “It has sausage, ham, bacon, onions, peppers, tomatoes, cheese, and it was made with four eggs. People would call it the garbage omelet.”
Dona Tritsarolis wife described her husband as a “workaholic.” He used to wake up every day at 3 a.m., whether there was something to do or not.
Mahi Tritsarolis-Dugan, one of Tritsarolis’ daughters, said her father passed down his great dedication for work. She started working in the restaurant as a kid, peeling potatoes and waitressing as a teenager. Not long after, she was in charge of watching the place.
“He had a lot of expectations. He wanted our best, and he wanted the best for us,” Tritsarolis-Dugan said. “Now that I am an adult, I understand why, and I value that lesson.”
Chrisoula Kuntz, Tritsarolis’ daughter, said her father didn’t enjoy buying toys for them when they were kids — but he would buy them all the books he could.
“Even if it was a $100 book, he didn’t care,” she said. “He’d always say, ‘I want you to read. I don’t want you to find the TV.'”
Tritsarolis was also “adamant” his two daughters learned extensively about Greek culture, from language to religion. Like many people who leave their home country, he stuck to his traditions, Donna Tritsarolis said.
“He wanted his grandkids to know that, too,” she said. “Because he had a lot of knowledge there that he wanted to hand down from generation to generation and he didn’t want to lose that.”
Peter Tritsarolis was a self-learner, his family said. He taught himself everything he could, from how to repair refrigerators to heating systems, until he became a professional.
“He always said that you’re never too old to learn,” Chrisoula Kuntz said.
Tritsarolis was so dedicated to his work that he tried to retire years ago, but it didn’t stick, his family said. He only retired for good in September, planning to spend his time with his two grandchildren, Zoey and Phillip.
Before he retired, Tritsarolis trained his son-in-law, Robbie Kuntz, to take over the restaurant and keep his legacy alive. Like his father-in-law, Robbie Kuntz started working at Cal-Harbor as a dishwasher.
“Next thing I know I’m cooking on the grill,” Kuntz said. “I sat there, and I watched everything he did. I saw how much he loved the place … and I wanted to make sure that I could do the job.”
Kuntz is now in charge of the restaurant. Over the years, Tritsarolis showed him all of his secret recipes, except for one.
“He didn’t show me how to cook his famous pasticcio,” Robbie Kuntz said. “Once, he started to, but changed his mind halfway.”
Keeping Tritsarolis’ beloved restaurant alive will help fill the great void he’s leaving, his family said.
“He will never be replaceable,” Mahi Tritsarolis-Dugan said. “We all know how much we were loved and all the sacrifices he made for his family. I hope people will remember his genuine soul.”
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