It started innocently enough, following our regular Sunday mass the wife and I decided to go out to breakfast. We were in the University district, where Blessed Sacrament church is located. We walked over to the “ave” and quickly settled on a small little Greek restaurant that we had both been in before in our younger years, called The Continental. It was a non descriptive place, but it was definitely Greek. Besides seating space for customers, it had a shelf dedicated to purchasing Greek items such as Greek wine, Retsina, olives, olive oil, coffee, pasta, rice, grape leaves, – pretty much any item you would need to make a nice Greek dinner. Right next to it was a display of Greek pastries including baklava, honey bars, elephant ears, and more (we will come back to this!). Over the next 17 years this would become a part of Jean and our lives. With the birth of each child, one of their first venture into the world would be a visit to The Continental. As they grew it would be a part of their lives as well as their childhood memories.
The Continental was started over forty years ago by a couple of Greek immigrants, George and Helen Lagos, After 40 years the Continental shuts its doors this past Sunday on June 30th. To read about the history, the Seattle Times ran a nice article on its history (click here). The final weeks since it was announced the Continental has been packed with patrons wanting to pay a final visit and say their goodbyes to both the restaurant and the family they had come to love. It was beautiful and at times emotional. So what was it about this little place that made it special to so many? I can only add the many experiences of my family, which are worthwhile, but I bet there are thousands more stories out there that are so compelling.
Our earliest experiences centered around three people, George, Helen and Katarine. These were the days of a young emerging Hoffmann family. We had one child at the time, our son Henrik. As anyone with kids knows when they are infants a restaurant is but a vessel to wreak havoc with their food. And wreak havoc is what Henrik did very well. Food was hurled to the floor and ground into the carpet. Yet this never bothered Helen or Katarine. As time would pass, we would add a second (Finn) and a third (Jens Christian). In each instance one of their first ventures into the world would be a trip to the Continental. Many times Helen or Katarine would coddle our infant boys so Jean could actually eat her food. As they grew George would often rise up from the regular table and walk over to the boys and ask them to ‘give me five’ and then jokingly wince and say they hurt his hand. The boys would giggle with delight. Mothers and fathers love places that accept and treat their kids well. It eases our stresses. Often in the early days, Helen and George’s son Taso would come in, usually with a book and have breakfast, and help if necessary.
We would have many events at the Continental. When my father was still alive he and my mom would join us for a birthday breakfast. My dad was an old-timer born in 1917, so the Corn Beef and Onion omelette was a must for him. Even though he was getting towards the end of his life and his appetite was not what it once was, he had no issues finishing that omelette. We would often meet friends at the Continental. If I had co-workers from out-of-town I would take them there. Jean met her friend Barb there once a month during dance season. Dmetre would just choose the wine for them. Then they would just talk and enjoy one another’s company. Somewhere along the way Dmetre really started running the show as George and Helen were getting along in years.
There were major life events such as Nov 4, 2009. That was the day Microsoft gave me my walking papers after eighteen years. I had started on November 4, 1991. Microsoft HR has a wonderful sense of humor. It was very difficult on Jean, but there was only one place we could go, The Continental. As we entered Helen stood there and Jean burst into tears as Helen gave her a big hug. At a time of need it was a place of comfort. Lunch was taken care of by Helen and in some way the day as dark as it could have been remains a positive memory in my life.
The regular table was reserved for the true patrons. There was often a group of Greeks. On Sundays there were some Police Officers who we got to know, sometimes they gave the kids police badges. A grumpy old guy named Preston, who has since passed a hundred years old. Somewhere along the way we obtained the status of regulars. One day when we walked in we were told to sit at the regulars table. Some Seattle Seahawks dream of being in the Ring of Honor, I just say you have not done your time. To get to the regular table takes over a decade, so it was a pleasant surprise when we were asked. But I never assumed. We were a morning crowd, but sometimes during the evenings when I came I would be invited to join a group of people and partake in the evenings political discussions. It was nice to sit at the table, but to be honest I just liked hanging out there and enjoying the friendly ambience.
One thing that always impressed me about the Lagos family is there handling of the area, as the location they were in the district was not necessarily the nicest A lot of street people asking for money. Some mentally, not capable. Sometimes they would wander in the door but whether it was Dmetre, Helen or George they were handled gently and without incident. It seemed second nature to them and I guess it would be after 40 years but it always impressed me.
Places like the Continental are a dying breed. Family restaurants passed down between generations. A regular clientele who come not just for the food but the company. A place where you feel welcome when you come in the door.It is common in Europe, but as you move west in the US there are fewer and fewer. But this little place allowed George and Helen to raise a family and dream of a better life for their children. Dmetre was able to do the same for his children. But as sad as I am about losing this establishment, times are changing. The restaurant business is tough and unlike days of old where you lived, worked and died, we have opportunities to allow us to live more these days. To enjoy our later years in life.
Our community is a little less today. However it is not a time to cry, but to be thankful that for so many years so many people had a place to go, to enjoy good food, to enjoy one another’s company and to simply just be. It was a chance to enjoy the simpler, but more important things in life such as family and friends. With that I would just say to the Lagos family, from the Hoffmann family and probably thousands of others a heartfelt Thank You! You will be missed greatly by all, but loved by them as well.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann July, 4 2013