Beloved CT restaurateur Dimitrios Paschalidis honored posthumously in Ridgefield

RIDGEFIELD — Dimitrios Paschalidis fed generations of residents during his lifelong career as a Fairfield County restaurateur. This week, the late Norwalk resident was honored for his decades of service to the community with a proclamation from the town.

Roughly 40 residents ate at Dimitri’s Diner on Tuesday to remember the larger-than-life owner, who died earlier this year after a months-long battle with an aggressive brain tumor. He was 80 years old.

Paschalidis opened the Prospect Street establishment in 1995; it has served as a community hub ever since. Within Dimitri’s he strived to provide the same level of cleanliness, service and good food patrons elsewhere had come to expect, borrowing from the kindness of strangers and friends to build the familial eatery Ridgefielders know today.

But Paschalidis’ presence was felt outside the diner, too: he sponsored many youth sports teams in town, started the Dimitri’s Fund for college-bound high school students and extended a helping hand to those in need. For St. Patrick’s Day this year, Paschalidis offered free meals for anyone who signed up as a way to support the community during COVID-19.

After his death on April 1, Ridgefield’s Commission on Aging originated the idea to honor Paschalidis with a posthumous proclamation. Members Andrea Beebe and Debra Franceschini spearheaded the initiative.

“From the very beginning Dimitri made you feel like you were family, and I honestly believe he thought the residents of Ridgefield were his family,” Beebe said. “He was such a force without trying to be.”

Although a proud Greek immigrant, Paschalidis was also “extremely grateful” for the opportunities America afforded him, Beebe said. He came to the states with his wife Maria in 1968 with only $50 in his pocket. He enjoyed years of success in the restaurant business before an economic downturn in the early ‘90s left him completely bankrupt, but his relentless ambition carried him forward.

“He told the kids his story and would say ‘don’t ever give up,’” Beebe said. “‘I failed and started over, and America gave me that opportunity.’”

Paschalidis was never one to shy away from welcoming children into the diner either, Beebe said, noting that its walls are covered in crayon drawings. He also enjoyed seeing those children come in for a meal years later with their own children, she added.

“For me it speaks to the continuity in town,” Beebe said. “It’s been there almost 30 years, and it’s still a place people go to.”

Whenever First Selectman Rudy Marconi would grab a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich at the diner, Paschalidis was always at the register with a smile on his face, no matter the time of day or night, he said.

“Dimitri was part of the thread that holds together the fabric of our community,” Marconi added. “When you went into his restaurant he spoke to you personally, and was interested in your answers and what your thoughts were.”

Marconi presented the proclamation to Paschalidis’ successor Kosta Mavridis, who accepted it on the family’s behalf. Guests enjoyed conversation and cake, which was inscribed with Paschalidis’ favorite saying: “God is great, life is beautiful.”