Remembering the man behind Demetrios' Pizza House

Remembering Dimitrios Sokos, Jimmy to his many friends

BRADENTON -- Dimitrios K. Sokos woke up disoriented Sept. 20. He seemed OK the rest of the day, but retreated to the same confused state that night.

"He was diabetic and we thought maybe his medication was off," his son Gus recalled.

That following Monday, Sokos' only child took him to Blake Medical Center where multiple tests were done on the 79-year-old.

On Tuesday, doctors revealed that Sokos had a tumor in his left lung. A subsequent biopsy showed his lungs were full of cancer. They said he was too weak for any treatment.

"It felt like the world had stopped," Gus said of that moment.

He remembers kneeling by his father's bed and asking if he knew where he was. Sokos did. Gus asked his father if he knew what was wrong. Sokos didn't.

"I told him 'The doctor just told us they found cancer in your lungs,'" Gus said. "He looked at me with a blank look in his eye."

He asked his father if he was afraid or in pain. Sokos wasn't.

"I said 'What would you like to do?' and he said 'It's up to God,'" Gus said.

Sokos died less than a month later on Oct. 19.

Born in Messini, Greece on Jan. 9, 1935, Sokos was the eldest child of farmers and became a produce broker after graduating high school. He married Helen Eliopoulos in 1962 and the couple welcomed Gus into the world two years later.

In April 1970, Sokos left his wife and son in Greece to carve out a better life for them in America. They later joined him by Christmas.

Sokos ran a small donut shop in New York City's Astoria neighborhood before moving his family to Bradenton, where he helped establish the now-legendary Demetrios' Pizza House at 1720 Cortez Road, Bradenton.

"He was a hard worker. He would be up at 7:00 in the morning -- especially when we started the restaurant -- and wouldn't come home until 11 or midnight some days," Gus said. "He worked 16 hours a day for many, many years so we can get established here."

Though Demetrios' Pizza House began with an idea between Sokos and his cousins, it grew once more family members got involved. Eventually locations sprouted up in Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Holiday.

Sokos had nicknames -- "Jimmy," "Jimmy the Greek" and "Pizzeria." He spent long hours at his restaurant but always made time for fun, whether it was playing cards or going for a drink after work here and there.

"He enjoyed Greek dancing and the old tradition of breaking plates," Gus said.

The 50-year-old chuckled slightly as he shared that his late father was "one of the best" at breaking dishes at weddings and Greek parties.

After Sokos retired from the restaurant in 1984, he would still visit the business almost every day. Gus, who now owns and runs the family business, said his father remained involved and always dished advice. He always told the family what he thought.

In 2000, when plans to close the restaurant and enlarge it were set in motion, Gus recalled his father worrying.

"This was the first pizza property that he bought when he got established in the U.S.," he said. "This was a big thing for him and he was afraid of anything going wrong."

When the restaurant reopened, Sokos saw how busy the business remained.

"I want to say that my father was my mentor. He was soft-spoken with me ... he never spanked me in my life, he never yelled at me in my life," Gus said. "He told me things to make me realize what was the difference between good decisions and bad decisions. I owe everything to him."

Gus remembers what he calls the "good old days" when his father would work the front end of the restaurant and greet people. This was before waiting lists.

"We visualize him and still reminisce about the days when we had the Friday night crowds and he would put people in line," he said. "One of the things that we will probably remember forever is this gift that he had for putting people together."

Sokos would see different couples waiting in line who didn't know each other. Sometimes the only table available would be a large one.

"He would ask them 'Do you know each other? Well, if you want to meet, I can put you in a table together,'" Gus said with a laugh. "And people just loved that ... he was so great at making friendships and memories."

On Monday, Sokos will be laid to rest at Mansion Memorial Park in Ellenton.

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.