Olympia says 'thanks'
By NANCYE TUTTLE, Sun Staff

 

 
 

LOWELL -- Socratis Tingas holds court at the front table of the Olympia Restaurant on Market Street, each day at lunch. He joins friends for Greek food and conversation, then greets the steady stream of customers who come in for authentic delicacies like stuffed grape leaves, baked lamb and moussaka.

"Every day I am here at 7 a.m. and enjoy having lunch with my friends," said Tingas, 83, who founded the restaurant 54 years ago.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 17-18, customers will enjoy an extra treat when they visit the Olympia. Tingas and his partners at the restaurant -- brother-in-law Peter Cocalis, sons Stephen and Arthur Tingas, and nephew Kosta Cocalis -- are rolling back prices to what they were 35 years ago.

"It's our way to show appreciation to our customers. We plan on doing this a couple of days each year, rolling some dishes back half-price to what they were in the 1970s," said Arthur Tingas, who manages the kitchen.

Reduced items include baked lamb, $5.95; roast leg of lamb, $6.75; chicken shishkebob, $6.95, and pork chops, $7.95. These are complete dinners, available for dine-in only and one per person, said Arthur.

Takeout specials include half-price lemon soup, $1.90 per pint, with a limit of three per person, and half-price rice plates with sauce, $2.65 per plate, with a limit of two per person.

"We'll also have our regular menu items available, but the reduced prices are good all day, lunch and dinner," said Arthur Tingas.

Socratis Tingas has been in the restaurant business a long time and enjoys recalling those early years.

"I got started when I came to Boston from Greece in 1946 and worked in the Athens Olympia Restaurant on Stuart Street," he said.

He also worked at the Omonia Restaurant in Boston, where he'd invested some money. He did kitchen prep work and front-of-the-house duties like bussing and waiting tables. And in his spare time, he read Greek cookbooks and dreamed of owning his own place.

He married his wife Kiki, a neighbor from his Greek village, in 1952 when her family immigrated here. Tingas worked in several Greek clubs but wanted to be his own boss. One of the club's vegetable purveyors told him that the owner of a building in Lowell -- the locale of the Olympia Cafe -- wanted someone new to lease the space and run the restaurant.

Socratis came to Lowell and tried the lamb and rice. Even though the food tasted "sour," the place was busy. He saw an opportunity and signed on the line.

That was in the early '50s -- and he hasn't left since. Brother-in-law Peter Cocalis was in the Army, but got into the business when he was discharged. Peter ran it on his own for 18 months in the early 1960s, when Tingas took his family back to Greece.

The family has worked together ever since the Tingases returned from Greece. Stephen is head chef, Arthur manages the kitchen and cousin Kosta Cocalis supervises the front of the house.

They have proudly seen the business through several renovations and additions, including gutting the building in the 1960s for a full renovation. The Zorba Room, which accommodates 250-300 for receptions and parties, will be redone this summer.

At its 50th anniversary four years ago, they added many seafood dishes to the menu that continue to be popular, said Arthur. But if there's a signature dish, it's the baked and roasted lamb dinners, complete with rice, potatoes, and vegetable garnishes.

"People love the lamb," said Arthur.

The Olympia Restaurant, 457 Market St., Lowell is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday-Monday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Takeout is available. Call 978-452-8092 or 978-459-7652.

Nancye Tuttle's e-mail address is ntuttle@lowellsun.com.