The Waitress at the White House Restaurant

Our thanks to Gail and Danny Bahlatzis for their help with this post. We also wish to thank Angelo Kontis and Dean Karlaftis for inviting us to St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church and introducing us to Gail and Danny.

Two years ago, we discovered a cache of South Mall negatives at the New York State Archives. Among them were several candid portraits of people who once lived and worked in Albany’s lost 98 acres. We’ve identified some of these subjects but most remain nameless. So—imagine our excitement late last month, when we found ourselves sitting across the kitchen table from one of them, the young woman heretofore known to us as “the waitress at the White House Restaurant.”

We interviewed Gail and Danny Bahlatzis at their house, July 2016. NYS Archives
We interviewed Gail and Danny Bahlatzis at their home in Colonie, July 2016.

Angeliki (Gail) Anagnostopoulou was only 15 years old when she first met her future husband, 19-year-old Dionysus (Danny) Bahlatzis, aboard the Nea Hellas, the ship that bore them from Piraeus, Greece to New York City in April 1952. Gail was sick most of the voyage and barely recalled the encounter. But Danny remembered her and later managed to finagle her address from an on-board acquaintance. That Christmas, he sent a card from Clendenin, West Virginia to her home in Rutland, Vermont. They married almost three years to the date of their shipboard encounter.

After Danny left the Army, where he had served in a tank battalion, the young couple moved to Brooklyn. Five years later and expecting a second child, they left New York City in search of cheaper housing. They settled in Albany, near Gail’s aunt and uncle Louis and Candida Thomas, who owned the White House Restaurant.

The White House Restaurant, March 1963. NYS Archives.
The White House Restaurant at the corner of Chestnut and S. Hawk, March 1963. NYS Archives.

Danny and Gail rented an upstairs apartment at 226 Jefferson St., next door to Gus’s Tavern. He drove an appliance delivery truck, while she cared for their sons. Their dream was to buy a home of their own—one that wasn’t near a bar. The opportunity arose when Gail’s Uncle Louis transferred to them the ownership of his restaurant.

However, this opportunity came with a cost. It took a lot of convincing, but Danny and Gail finally agreed to send their young sons (one still in diapers) with her brother to live with family in Greece. That way, both parents could work morning through evening at the restaurant. Gail cried for her children every night they were parted.

NYSA_15727-89_1963_8580B_36 8 Hawk White House customer
Customers of the White House Restaurant included Capitol guards, legislators, visiting school groups, and retirees who lived in the neighborhood. NYS Archives.

The work was hard, and neither Bahlatzis had any prior restaurant experience. But they were quick studies. Danny became the chef, even though, he tells us, early on he didn’t know how to cook (even an egg).

A sixty-five year old Greek immigrant, Nickolaos Bellas, taught Danny the ropes. Nick was a longtime resident of Albany’s 98 acres and a veteran restaurant chef. From him, Danny learned to prepare not just eggs and bacon but also pot roast and lamb shank, dishes often featured as the daily special.

On the menu: eggs. ham, bacon, grilled cheese, hamburgers, tuna and ham sandwiches, along with coffee, tea, and hot chocolate.
On the menu: eggs. ham, bacon, grilled cheese, hamburgers, tuna and ham sandwiches, along with coffee, tea, milk, and hot chocolate. NYS Archives.

From the sale of 10¢ coffees and 30¢ hamburgers (about $100 per day), Gail and Danny were able to save $3,000. This was enough to put money down on a house in Colonie but not to open the restaurant in a new location.

The need to move the restaurant arose as a result of the State of New York’s appropriation of 8 S. Hawk for the South Mall. When Danny learned the news, he walked down to the State’s South Mall office on Hudson Ave. to request help as a business owner inhabiting rented space. But his request for a loan was refused—so Danny found a job in the kitchen at Wolfert’s Roost country club, and Gail worked in a S. Pearl St. coat factory. A few years later, in partnership with Gail’s Uncle Louis, they bought the Empress Restaurant on Northern Blvd., later Central Ave. in Colonie.

Danny and Gail today.
Danny and Gail today.

Today, Danny and Gail are enjoying a well-earned retirement from all their hard work. They sold the restaurant six years ago and are proud of all they have achieved since immigrating to the U.S. over sixty years ago. Late last month, we sat down with them for coffee and conversation and left with this story, a container full of Gail’s baklava, and a bottle of Danny’s famous salad dressing.

 

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Mickey Stack says:

    Great examples of hard working immigrant families (uncles included). Congrats to them that they entered, survived, and thrived in the USA!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeana Pena says:

    great story. thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Suzanne Blackman says:

    What a beautiful story about two brave hard working people. I attended Cardinal McCloskey HS and witnessed the demolishment of their old established neighborhood. As a teenager, who didn’t live in that neighborhood, I felt so saddened.
    I only hope that Danny & Gail realize that although their old neighborhood no longer exists that fond memories, for so many of us who were lucky enough to have experienced those ethnic ethics of the original “98 Acres”, still do exist. Thanks to wonderful people like Gail and Danny.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I cried at their having to send their children away. You didn’t say how long they were gone, but my goodness, what a sacrifice. And what a wonderful story. I’m so glad these two got to enjoy a good life together. How beautiful they are today!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Shirley says:

    Keep these essays coming..a gift of serenity in trying times. We need more…as. .a former customer at the Empress I saw the hard work…..they should speak to groups….senior centers…schools…they have a big story to tell…..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jane melas says:

    Loved the story. I know them both and never missed a week at the 🎤🎻 :empress- great food and couple. Enjoy your retirement! Love ya, jane

    Liked by 1 person

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