Thirty-five years ago, Maria and Sam Perdikis used their life’s savings to purchase a modest diner in Newport, Delaware, dreaming that they could turn it into a business that would provide them and their family a better life than they had experienced in their childhood — his in Greece, hers in Italy.
It was a big risk, but not an outrageous one. Sam came to the table with 15 years experience as a Hotel DuPont waiter. At the time, Maria headed the kitchen at the Strawbridge & Clothier’s. For a couple that had held jobs since grade school, sharpened their food service skills at revered Wilmington businesses, and saved diligently for decades, the dream was within reach.
Typical of many new businesses, it had a shaky start. The ink on the paperwork was barely dry when the equipment purchased as part of the restaurant began to fail.
Fortunately, there was no challenge too big that working 7 days-a-week, 16-hours-a-day couldn’t overcome. During these early days, business partnerships were created that have withstood the test of time: a trusted Newark accountant who counts the Original Newport Family Restaurant among his first clients; a national food distributor that has provided guidance and dependable service for three decades; a security company started by some Newport neighbors; a popular north Wilmington butcher; and skilled staff whose own families have grown as the business has.
Any family-owned enterprise that endures for 35 years in a business where customers can be fickle, profit margins slim, and the competition tough, is obviously special. But what really distinguishes the Original Newport Family Restaurant is the woman at the helm.
Just four years after investing literally everything in her future, Maria lost her husband Sam, who suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 59. As she had with every challenge in her life, Maria overcame by working through it.
Maria’s first job was on her family’s farm in Italy while she was still in grade school. After that, a non-stop series of jobs in her homeland, then Toronto, and later in Delaware, put her on the path to the restaurant in Newport. These jobs included assisting a local physician and his family in a small town in central Italy, assembling piecework for a clothing manufacturer in Toronto, and working in kitchens in Delaware restaurants.
While her work experience was certainly important to her development as a business owner, it is her work ethic that has set her apart. In Toronto, her piecework production doubled after Day 1 and rose high enough for her to financially support herself — an uncommon achievement for one doing that type of job.
At the Strawbridge & Clothier stores, where she ran the kitchens at the Merchandise Mart and later Christiana Mall, her cooking drew lines of diners from 11 am to 8 pm. Word has it that when Maria left that job, the company had to hire three people to replace her! It was this work ethic that enabled an immigrant woman whose formal education had ended after 5th grade to realize the American Dream.
The ‘dream,’ however, was not without its nightmares. During her time running the restaurant, the eatery has been robbed, Maria has been mugged, and the business has withstood some tough economic times. She’s faced down 20-hour days, as well as all the complications involved in managing employees and keeping customers happy.
For Maria, all of this has been simply a continuation of something integral to her life since her days on the farm in Italy: hard work. It’s been about doing whatever needs to be done, and ensuring that it is done well.
The Original Newport Family Restaurant is certainly an example of that. The staff, many of whom have been there for decades, are conscientious, friendly and skilled. Breakfast plates coming out of the kitchen hold hot, fresh basics; amply portioned Italian specialties are authentic; crab cakes and croquettes are hand crafted; and the chicken & dumplings entree has been a crowd pleaser since the Eighties.
Soon, the restaurant will be hanging a banner or two to mark its 35th year in business — not that it has ever needed to advertise. Aside from some promotional items for customers and a recent foray into social media, the eatery has done very little advertising over the years. Instead, word of mouth has attracted people to the Original Newport Family Restaurant.
In addition to a large core of regulars, other slightly more famous folk have made their way there: Governors, Senators, Vice Presidents, and even some stars of entertainment. Recently, it has drawn the attention of “American Road Trip,” a new series airing on Netflix later this year.
One might assume that it is the restaurant’s delicious, well-priced food that is its biggest attraction. Maria would tell you that it could also be the conscientious cook who eagerly retrieves feedback left in the comment card box at the counter; the wait staff that is among the most experienced and competent in town; or perhaps even the Violin performances put on by her daughter and granddaughter during holidays.
I’m sure people go back for all these things. But I would bet many go back for Maria: the immigrant, single mother whose old school recipes and old school work ethic made her American Dream a reality.
The Original Newport Family Restaurant is located at 601 W. Newport Pike in the Graystone Plaza in Wilmington, DE. They are open Monday through Friday 7:00 am–8:00 pm, Saturday 6:00 am–8:00 pm, and Sunday 6:30 am–1:00 pm. Bring your appetite, but leave your credit card at home — it’s a cash only operation!