Oral History Interview with Pano John Camichos

Oral History Interview with Pano John Camichos

Created: June 10, 2016

My name is Pano John Camichos. I was born in Orlando on March 3, 1933. My name as it appears on the birth certificate is PANOYOTIS. However, I think because of the accents of my father at the time I was born it should have been PANAGIOTIS. I was born and raised in Orlando except for a period between 1938 and 1942 we lived in Jackson, Mississippi, and then in Hattiesburg, MS in the early part of 1941 when my father reopened his restaurant. And I've lived here all my life.

LISTEN PART I - 17:30      LISTEN Part II - 12:49      LISTEN  Part III - 8:53       

Are your parents from Orlando?

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Geneva and John Camichos at the Greek Independence Day Celebration at Lakeside on Lake Conway, March 25, 1932.

No, my father was from Greece.... My mother was born and raised in Edgefield, South Carolina and left there subsequent to my folks marriage in 1923. Well, actually, when they moved here to Orlando in 1924, but they lived the rest of their lives here except for that brief period in Mississippi.

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March 14, 1947 photo of The City Beautiful Chapter No. 161 Order of AHEPA. Pictured from left to right seated are: Will Pihos, John Bravos, John Camichos, George Serros and, standing on the far right, Alex Lazos.

Did your father mention how he happened to come to the United States?

Yes, he did. Back when he was probably in his middle nineties, I took the opportunity to interview him. My father was born in 1892 and he originally came to this country in 1910. So he would have been 18. I found out subsequent to his death that he apparently came here with the intent of remaining in the United States in 1910. However, in 1912, the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 13 broke out. And many Greeks who had emigrated to the United States actually went back to Greece and fought in those wars. I found subsequently, too, that there were two regiments of Greek soldiers that consisted of regular Greek soldiers, and, the Evzones, which are the elite forces of Greek military, and Greek Americans, Greeks who had emigrated to America and then went back specifically to fight in those wars.

Following the end of the war he and several of his friends decided they were going to leave Greece in 1916 and this was all due to a lot of political activities that were going on. They weren't happy with what was happening in Greece at the time and this, of course, my interview with him, this came out. And so, he elected to leave the country and he told me in his interview that there were maybe 40 or 50 of his friends were also coming out at the same time. The government just prior to them leaving put out an edict that no Greek of military age was to leave Greece. So a lot of them got detained and they never got out. My father and a friend apparently had a friend who was a sailor on a freighter and he smuggled them aboard ship and they hid out in an unfired boiler until the ship was out to sea. And he told me in the interview that the customs people came around and went and looked in all the boilers. You know they'd open the door, and he and his friend stood against the wall where the door was located and held their suitcases up above their heads so that the man wouldn't see them when they were in there.

And so he got out of the country by that means and landed in Boston. He came through Boston in, I believe it was October of 1916. Subsequent to that, well, maybe I might be getting a little ahead of you. At that point he went to work in a restaurant in Grand Central Station shucking oysters. So he got his feet wet, you know, at that time. And he stayed in New York City until 1919 whereupon he had another friend that lived in Edgefield, SC that had a restaurant and my dad moved down with him and opened a fresh fruit stand and opened this restaurant right here in downtown Edgefield. That building by the way still exists where he had his vegetable stand. And through his friendship with my uncle he met my mother during this period and so he and she got married in 1923 and remained in Edgefield until 1924 whereupon he came to Orlando.

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The Ritz Cafe located at 13 North Orange Avenue in Orlando can be seen on the right in this 1928 photo by T. P. Robinson.

The Ritz Cafe

And if I remember correctly, I think the address was 46 or 48 West Central Boulevard right next to the Empire Hotel. And he remained there I assume maybe three or four years. And then in 1928 he bought the cafe from a gentleman by the name of Williams and opened The Ritz Cafe.

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1928 photo of The Ritz Cafe at 13 North Orange Avenue owned by John Camichos. His wife, Geneva Camichos, can be seen at the cash register in this photo.

The Ritz Cafe operated from 1928 until he sold it in 1938. And during that period they were open, this restaurant was open 24 hours a day.

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Business stationery for The Ritz Cafe located at 13 North Orange Avenue "In The Heart of Orlando". The cafe was opened 24 hours a day as indicated on this letterhead: ALWAYS OPEN.

And I don't know what shift they took or if he changed it around periodically, but one of his partners that worked for him at the time was a gentleman by the name of Harry Pappas who eventually opened Harry's Restaurant between Washington and Jefferson in the Autrey Arcade and that restaurant operated until probably sometime in the sixties.

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Harry Pappas, center, and, John Camichos, far right, discuss business at a meeting in downtown Orlando, circa 1940's.

I've forgotten what date they finally closed that up. After he sold The Ritz Cafe in 1938 he took myself and my mother to Greece. And so we must have left Orlando in sometime, late May or early June, and went to Greece. Toured around Greece and went back up to his village and spent some time there....

Then coming back to the United States we still had our home on East Central Boulevard where I grew up for the most part and we stayed there briefly whereupon after that we moved to Jackson, MS we were there for maybe a year and then to Hattiesburg for a year for another couple of years he operated The Ritz Coffee Shop in Jackson and the Liberty Cafe in Hattiesburg. And the Liberty Cafe in Hattiesburg was quite successful because of the military base that was close by. There were a lot of soldiers that came in on weekends. Then just prior to the war breaking out my father repurchased The Ritz Cafe from the owners that had it at that time and that was Langston. His daughters were high school classmates of mine, but he and his partner sold the restaurant back to my father and my father changed the name to Southland Restaurant. And he operated that until 1947.

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The Southland Restaurant dinner menu for June 22, 1943.

Now at that point prior to my dad buying it back, Langston had expanded that restaurant to twice its physical floor space. when my dad came back he decided that was way too much room to utilize, to serve properly. So he partitioned off part of it. And the northern part of that facility was square footage wise about the same as his main restaurant. And he held it as a banquet room essentially because of the war having broken out at that point. His neighbor to the north side of his building by the way, his address of The Ritz Cafe and The Southland Restaurent was 13 North Orange Avenue.

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Mr. John Camichos and his wife, Geneva Camichos, are pictured center with The Southland Restaurant staff, 1944.

The Marine Room

His neighbors immediately north of him on the corner of Wall Street and Orange was Jack Halloway's Package Store and Lounge. Jack Halloway by the way, in case people do not know it was the founder of ABC Liquor. That space that I was taking about that my dad partitioned off during the weekend because of the overflow of the military that were coming into Orlando at the time. Jack used that facility as his overflow for the lounge. They had a dance floor in there and a bandstand. They had a window that they had cut through the wall so they had direct access to the bar so the waiters and waitresses could get drinks and serve them there. And that facility was known as The Marine Room because Jack had decorated it in a marine motif with fish and stuff around...

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"Lightning" Theodore Brown, the great cook of The Southland Restaurant, is pictured second from the right in this 1944 staff photo.

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The Southland Restaurant daily luncheon menu for Tuesday, January 12, 1943.

The Southland Restaurant

Well, in 1947, the people that owned the Rock Building which that building was known as at the time, and by the way, that little two story structure in La Belle Fur Company was upstairs on the second floor. They demolished that building and built what is now the existing building. So my dad in 1948 when they reopened, occupied a much smaller restaurant in there which he still continued to call The Southland Restaurant.

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The Southland Restaurant at 17 North Orange Avenue in 1948. Mr. John Camichos can be seen standing, center, and. his wife, Geneva Camichos, is pictured at the cash register.

And he operated that facility until 1952 when he finally closed the restaurant up for financial reasons. He went at that point, Jack Halloway at that time had opened up the, he opened up a show bar nightclub down just north of the interesection of Orange Blossom Trail and Oakridge Road. And from there he got a job at Patrick Air Force Base as the chef in the officer's quarter restaurant at Patrick Air Force Base and worked there until he finally retired.

My mother was always working. I have photographs of my mother taken inside The Ritz Cafe in 1928 and I know that that date is accurate, by one of the well known photographers of Orlando at that time. I believe that was Dietrich. And you can read Ritz Cafe in reverse because he's lookimg through the window and my mother's the cashier in that photograph. But my mother continued to work as a housekeeper at the hotel, I can't remember the name of it. It's still there at the corner of Central Avenue and, I think, that's Osceola. It's right there on Lake Eola and that building is still there. I think it's a condo now. My mother passed away in 1992. She was just shy of her 89th birthday. And my dad passed away the following year just two months shy of his 101st. So they lived very long and, for the most part, healthy lives. And, of course, hopefully that will be hereditary. And that's basically how he came to the United States and came to Orlando.

You mentioned that your father came from Greece and that you went back on a trip together. Before that time, after World War II, I understand that the Greek people actually were affected a lot by WWII.

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Volos Harbor, Greece, 1946.

That's correct. Like most of Europe at that time, you know, there was so much destruction that occurred over there and people know about what happened in Germany and Poland and Austria and France and very few people know about what occurred in Greece. Following our trip to Greece, my father had numerous correspondence with his uncles, but then when the war broke out which in Greece's case occurred in 1940, I believe it was, we got very little correspondence from them until after the war was over. Little if any.

First of all, the Italians came in, invaded Greece, and they were rapidly repulsed. And apparently it so embarrassed the German government that Hitler sent the German army into Greece. And as a result of that, you know they came in and they destroyed the crops and what they didn't destroy they sent back to Germany, livestock the same way. And the entire population of Greece suffered as a result of that because there was no food available.

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VIEW report published on the front page of The Orlando Sentinel, May 18, 1946.

My uncle weighed in the neighborhood of about 200 pounds that lived there in Volos. He dropped down to close to 100 pounds by the time the war was over.

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Relatives of Orlandoans as they posed for Associated Press reporter "Soc" Chakales, on special assignment for the Sentinel-Star. Left to right, back row: George Valovinis, hotel keeper, brother of Mrs. John Camichos; Stavros Camichos, and George Camichos, one a merchant, the other an unemployed real estate man, both brothers of John Camichos. Front row, left to right: Malos Stavros, former army officer, now unemployed, cousin of Bill Cianides; Mrs. Marigailia Michalodiou, first cousin of Leon Kazanzas, Orlando fruit dealer; Achille Kapabarbalsalous, cousin of Constatine Kapabarbalsalous, Orlando. Photo: Volos, Spring 1946.

People were just starving and things I have read subsequent to that time, there were people dying in the streets in Athens. You know there were just corpses everywhere. And following the war, you know, then you had the civil war took hold and that didn't help much better.

In 1946, a lady in Orlando [Mrs. Bowe]... following the lead of some other cities in the United States the elected approached the city council to adopt a city in Greece to help subsidize with food stuffs as we could arrange. And during that search, they approached my father because, of course, him being Greek. So when he got involved with it he suggested they adopt Volos which at the time was almost identical in size to Orlando.

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A banquet for Orlando's Relief Effort to Volos. The banquet was held in the Marine Room of the Southland Restaurant at 13 N. Orange Avenue. Mr. John P. Camichos, is pictured standing. Mrs. Bowe, is pictured first on the left.

And so it was basically like two cities helping, another city helping another city of almost identical conditions.

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1946 photo postcard of Volos, Greece.

During 1946, they raised money, they did food drives. As I recall, I think, their endeavor was to gather at least three box cars full of canned goods, both vegetables and meats and anything else they could get. And get it all together and ship it to Volos which they subsequently did. But those were extremely hard times living there.

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Orlando Junior Chamber of Commerce collecting canned food for the starving citzens of Volos, the Greek city that Orlando adopted on April 22, 1946.

Because when the Germans came into Greece, my uncle who lived in Volos, they had like a summer resort. That uncle by the way owned an apartment house. He went to a little village up north of Volos up in the mountains... and he and his family stayed there throughout the war. Here again they were perhaps not as closely guarded by the Germans as people in Volos were, but they were guarded none the less. One tragedy that sort of came out of that is my uncle had three daughters, two of who passed away in recent years, but the third daughter and I never could find out any information from the other two about her, died either during that siege or shortly thereafter. And I've always believed that perhaps she took her own life because of maybe some incident that may have occurred.... But they suffered up in the mountains and this occurred throughout Greece. You know if a German soldier was killed by someone in the Resistance the Germans undertook, I read somewhere recently they were taking in terms of like 50 lives for the death of one German. And so this occurred throughout the entire country. People don't really know a lot about that.

But after this Relief Effort to Volos, and that went on for several months. During 1946 we got the food stuff shipped to Volos.

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Shipping receipt for two boxes weighing 125 pounds sent to Georgion Karamitson of Volos, Greece from John Camichos of Orlando, Florida, March 11, 1946.

There were a lot of accolades from the citizens of Volos to thank him for his efforts and for the city's efforts.

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Letter To Mr. William Beardall, Mayor of Orlando from the People of Volos, Greece, June 10, 1946.

And there were personal letters sent to my father and all the members of the group that was heading up this food drive including Martin Anderson who was the head of The Sentinel at that time, thanking them for what effort they were able to do for them.

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May 28, 1946 thank you letter from Const. Papadopoulos, President, The Union of Agents of Insurance Companies Operating in Volo and Thessaly to John Camichos, of Orlando, Florida. VIEW envelope.

And if you go through there's documentation of those events. It's a little heart rendering because most of the letters that came were written in Greek, but there were some in there that were written in English and it's really sad to hear those people recounting the ordeal they went through during that time.

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Handwritten letter in Greek from Pyros Koumouions, an orphan in Volos, Greece to John Camichos in Orlando, Florida, May 30, 1946. View letter second page, View envelope, View photo front, View photo back

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July 25, 1947 Letter to the President and Brother AHEPANS, Chapter of the City Beautiful, Orlando, Florida from Stephanos V. Kosmas, Riga Ferraiou St. 180, Volos, Greece. VIEW Letter page two.

So if I understand correctly many people from the city participated or was it just the Greek community?

It was the entire city of Orlando that participated - the schools, all the schools participated.

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Lisa Camichos, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Pano Camichos, and granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Camichos.

My daughter did her Master's thesis on the relief efforts of the Truman Doctrine subsequent to WWII and she devoted one entire chapter to the efforts put on by Orlando. This all came as a result, most of the documentation came from the results of the information that I have from my dad's estate. One interesting thing that she pointed out, of the schools in Orlando and which all of them participated, the one that raised the most can goods of all was Jones High School. You know that was a star if you will on Jones High's efforts.

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Jones High School

And Jones High wouldn't have been one of the higher income areas?

No, it would not have been. You know like most of the city of Orlando was or anywhere else for that matter in 1946 there was a definite segregation that went on. And you know you could go around Orlando and you know when you passed into those areas, I mean there was no question, it was segregated. And in my opinion for them to have undertaken to support the city as they did is remarkable.

Would it be correct to say that lives were saved?

Oh, yes, very definitely. The documentation that in Greece I have accumulated from my dad's stuff, there's one photograph in there and some of these, I have original photographs of parts that were printed in The Orlando Sentinel at the time and one of them particularly shows a very small girl who was a beggar in Volos just begging for food, something to eat.

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Orlando Sentinel Photo: Spring 1946. This is a young beggar girl.... READ

I mean, you know, it was very tragic events that went on at that point. So, yes, it helped. And if you read those letters particularly the ones, if you can read Greek, I'd love to be able to. I don't read Greek and I'm sorry that I don't because I can imagine that a lot of these letters are very heart rendering because the ones that are written in English are heart rendering.

Do you still have family that lives in Greece?

Yes, most of my cousins. I have some cousins that still live in Volos. As far as I know they all live right there in Volos. My wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Volos in 1996 and again in 2001 so we were able to meet my first two cousins, but then I've also met some of my second and third cousins and they're still there. My first cousins of course have passed away as well as their husbands because they were all much older than we are....

LISTEN Part II 12:49

Did you continue in the same line of work as your father, the restaurant business?

My father, you know worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, rarely took any vacation time and that wasn't my thing. In 1952 I went to work for Hughes Supply mostly in administrative type jobs. I left them in 1972 went to work for another distributor whereupon I became involved with the electric utility industry as a salesman. And subsequent to that got with a small manufacturers agency out of St. Petersburg and expanded those calls in the utility industry to virtually all the municipals and REA's in the northern three quarters of the state of Florida. And in conjunction with that since most of the distributors of the utilities that I was calling on always did business with distributors, I had a number of distributors selling to me with the utilities that I dealt with; Hughes Supply being one of the largest....

So you've seen a lot of changes in Orlando?

Yes. Orlando, say, for instance, when I graduated from high school at OHS in 1950, there were approximately 50,000 55,000 people in Orlando. There were perhaps 125,000 in Orange County. Well, as you well know, in today's world, Orlando has got more residents than the county did back then. The biggest change probably economically, as I see it from an Orlando point of view is the Martin Marietta moving in. They brought a lot of new people in, but it wasn't the explosion of growth that occured when Disney World moved in here. I mean there's no comparison between the growth rate with Martin vs. the growth rate with Disney. You know I think our metropolitan Orlando area consists of well over a million and a half people. Frankly from my personal point of view that's way too many people. But that's change.

Now one of the things I did notice about the downtown area in Orlando, subsequent to WWII, I think people became more mobile. They had more money. Automobiles were more readily available. The community changed from agriculture to a rural environment. You began to see the restaurants moving to locations outside of the city limits. You know people didn't go downtown to have dinner. They went to places like Champ Williams, White Turkey Restaurant on North Mills Street, La Cantina Restaurant out on East Colonial as well as D'Agostino's Villa Nova out on East Colonial. There were several other big restaurants around town. Gary's Duck Inn would have been another one. And they had the parking area so consequently I think the restaurant business in downtown Orlando changed after WWII more than it did prior to that you know in the 1930's. You know there wasn't any place to go except downtown. Now after the war people had cars. There were other places you could go to have dinner. So I think the restuarant business downtown suffered as far as dinner was concerned; and it became more of a location for people working downtown to have breakfast and lunch there and I think that is the case today except for the fact of night clubbing. There was no night clubbing in Orlando when I was growing up.

You have a sense of the history. You also served as chair of the Orlando Remembered organization. What do you see as the future of Orlando?

Well, I can't see anything occuring other than the fact that it's going to continue to grow. I think I read recently they determined Florida now has more residents than the State of New York. And it's just, it's a little bit beyond me. You know I'm of the age I'd like to have things kind of wide open. It's getting a little bit too congested for me. But I see no way that's it's going to change. It will grow. At what rate I have no idea. It will be something to be seen.

Do you still have a sense that there's a community connection, that an effort such as the effort to assist the Greeks, there's still a community connection there?

I don't really know how to answer that. I can't visualize us as being perhaps as close knit a town today as it was back in the 40s and even the early 50s. Because I think when you used to go downtown back at that time when I was growing up it was rare that you didn't see somebody you know. Well, you have to go a long way to find somebody you know today. We're just so diversified and scattered that I don't know that that camraderie is still there except in small groups like Orlando Remembered. You know even though I don't attend the meetings perhaps as much as I used to I can appreciate their efforts of trying to keep Orlando as it was in front of the visitors, if you will. But it's still basically a small group of people that are endeavoring to do this. Hopefully it's going to have an impact on those that view their displays around town and make them realize that there was something here besides orange trees prior to Disney coming in. I mean some people think Disney saved Orlando. Well, hell, they didn't save anything. You know we were doing pretty well before Disney got here. But anyway, you know, that's change, I guess....

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Photo of Mr. and Mrs. Pano Camichos on a Caribbean cruise in the year 2000.

Interview: Pano John Camichos

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: February 20, 2015

Place: Home of Mr. Camichos in Orlando, Florida.

Author:
jtracy
Name:
Pano Camichos
Birthplace:
Orlando

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