‘He knew the ingredients for success’: Beloved CT restaurateur Dimitrios Paschalidis dies at 80

RIDGEFIELD — Harry Paschalidis said his father, Dimitrios, was so hardworking that he achieved the American dream twice. Over the course of 50 years the Norwalk resident built an empire of eateries across Fairfield County, working upwards of 100 hours a week — even into his 70s.

On April 1, Dimitrios Paschalidis died after a months-long battle with an aggressive brain tumor. He was 80 years old.

Paschalidis was born in 1940 in the Greek village of Agios Dimitrios and grew up amid the German occupation and the Greek Civil War. In 1967, he married his wife, Maria, after a series of chaperoned dates, Harry said. The couple landed in Norwalk a year later with $50 in their pockets and settled among fellow Greeks.

After spending a year making golf clubs at a manufacturing plant, Paschalidis, per the advice of his friends, decided to pursue a job in the restaurant business. At 28, he was hired as a dishwasher at a Danbury diner, now known as Three Brothers, working day and night and saving every dime he made, Harry said. Two years later, he bought the diner from the owners.

In 1973, Paschalidis opened The Country Squire in Greenwich and managed to purchase that property, as well. The family still owns it to this day. “My father realized that real estate was really where he was gonna be able to take (his dreams) to the next level,” Harry said.

After opening a third diner in New Haven, Paschalidis envisioned an upscale establishment for Norwalk. In the late ‘80s he opened Three Flags, whose menu paid homage to French, Italian and American cuisines. The restaurant featured tableside salad service, an escargot appetizer and an extensive wine collection, and even earned a write up in The New York Times.

But economic downturn in the early ‘90s coupled with the groundbreaking of Norwalk’s DMV brought fiscal stress and construction-related chaos to Three Flags, ultimately bankrupting Paschalidis as he arrived at the pinnacle of success, Harry said.

The restaurateur's relentless ambition drove him to pool his money into a snack shop on Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, which the city had put up for bid. He spent that summer pushing an ice cream cart across the sand in a full apron under the beating sun.

“The amazing thing about him is that he never gave up. … He wasn’t gonna let anything stop him from taking care of his family,” Harry said. “Pride wasn’t a factor.”

A mutual connection brought Paschalidis to Ridgefield in 1995, where the owner of a shoe store at 16 Prospect St. was looking to sell the property. Though Paschalidis didn’t have the largest offer on the table, Harry said, he told the owner he’d pay him back with interest once the restaurant took off.

“He knew the ingredients for success,” Harry said of his father.

Within Dimitri’s Diner, Paschalidis strived to provide the same level of cleanliness, service and good food patrons elsewhere had come to expect. He borrowed from the kindness of strangers and friends to build the familial eatery Ridgefielders know today, Harry said, and quickly became a larger-than-life figure in the community. He sponsored many youth sports teams, started the Dimitri’s Fund for college-bound high school students and extended a helping hand to those in need.

Kosta Mavridis has worked at Dimitri’s for the past 15 years. “I probably spent more time with him than my real father,” he said of Paschalidis. “He was very friendly with everybody, especially the young kids, and he helped a lot. For example, if a customer had surgery, he would send food home to them.”

Harry said his father will most be remembered for those singular stories, where he’d spend time talking and comforting patrons who were struggling and offer to pick up the tab — it happened more often.

As Paschalidis grew older his family encouraged him to retire — he was still working 100-hour weeks into his 70s. Last fall, just a month before he was set to retire, Paschalidis was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. He went in for surgery the first week of October and fought the illness until the end of his life.

Paschalidis is survived by his wife, Maria; his children Harry (Lara Paschalidis) and Effie; and two grandchildren, Illeas and Maria. He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Anthoula Iordanidis; his siblings, Anthoula Hatzidimitriou and Eleftherios Paschalidis, their spouses and nieces and nephews.

The family has set up a GoFundMe page in Paschalidis’ memory (gf.me/u/zpip8h). All proceeds will be donated to various charities and people in need.