Why are all the Pete's restaurants named Pete's?
By MIKE FOLEY
May. 12, 2018
GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Editor's note: This story was originally published, Sunday Jan. 9, 2000.
Next time you walk into a Pete's restaurant — and if you stay in the Greenville area longer than a week, you likely will — don't expect to find Pete behind the counter.
While there are nearly two dozen Pete's, or the variant Petee's, restaurants in the Upstate, real-life Petes are hard to find.
There are plenty of Speros and Georges, as well as a sprinkling of Guses, Sams and Nicks who own the restaurants — which are not a chain and are individually owned, almost all by Greeks — but a paucity of Petes.
That doesn't stop customers from asking for Pete when they walk in the door, sit at a Formica-top table and get a whiff of hamburgers grilling and onion rings frying.
"Everybody says, "Where's Pete? Where's Pete?'" said George Mastorakis, owner of Pete's Drive-In No. 7 in Greer. "But there's no Pete."
Tony Como, who helps run Como's Pete's No. 4 on Augusta Street in Greenville, said he can't help but joke about not having a Pete at his family's restaurant.
"People will say, 'I've known Pete for 20 years,'" Como said about longtime customers referring to his dad, Jimmy Como, who owns the restaurant. "And I will tell them, 'Yeah, I knew Pete back when he was just Jimmy."
Not all the restaurants are run by pseudo-Petes. Pete Kalatges owns four Petee's restaurants in Greenville and Travelers Rest, but he couldn't begin until he battled non-Pete restaurant owners over his name in the 1960s.
"I wanted to name it Pete's," Kalatges said about the first restaurant he opened, in an old Burger Chef on Wade Hampton Boulevard in Taylors. "But the older guys — they're all dead now — fought me on that. We finally decided I could just add an e, and make it Petee's."
Another legal fight over the name occurred in the mid-1980s, Como said. Some of the older "Petes" were fed up with all the newcomers opening restaurants with the same name.
"Now, you can have a Pete's of Simpsonville, a Pete's of Gaffney or a Pete's of Pumpkintown," Como said. "But you can't have a Pete's with a number after it."
Such slight difference in names is likely lost on many customers, like the ones who can't figure out where they ate dinner or ordered takeout.
"I'll have people call here and complain," Como said with a sigh. "They'll say they just came in here and got an order of jumbo shrimp here. They just pick the wrong number out of the book."
How the area blossomed with Petes is a complicated story, said Como and Spero Conits, owner of Pete's Original Restaurant on Pendleton Street. They admit, depending on who you ask, you'll get different versions of how it all began.
Here's their version:
The first Pete's — a café, not a drive-in — was opened in downtown Greenville before the Great Depression by Pete Manos, a Greek immigrant. A short time later he opened Pete's No. 2, another café at the site of the current Maureen's, at 110 N. Main St.
The Manos family let Conits' father John Conits and two of Como's great-uncles open a drive-in, Pete's No. 3, now known as Pete's Original Restaurant. The uncles, joined by other partners, opened the fourth Pete's, now renamed Como's Pete's No. 4.
"The uncles sold No. 4 to all the young nephews in the early 1960s," the younger Como said, including his dad. At Como's Pete's, as the partners left, remaining owners bought them out until only Jimmy Como was left.
In the meantime, a plethora of other Pete's opened throughout the Upstate and beyond.
"Now, there's a No. 3; there's a No. 4, that's us; there's a No. 6 in Easley; there's a No. 7 in Greer," Como counted. "And, I know my father had a No. 10 in Shelby (N.C.) for a while. it's a wacky story.
Mastorakis tells the same story more succinctly.
"The men who started the Pete's were successful," Mastorakis said. "And then everybody took after them."
Conits said Greek immigrants were drawn to the restaurant business, especially Pete's because it was easy to get into.
"There's not a big language barrier when you start washing dishes or cooking," Conits said. "Then you can learn to take orders, and it's not hard."
Pete's Original serves as a makeshift training school for restaurant owners.
"Most all the Greeks who work in the business have worked here," Conits said, including himself. "I've worked here on and off all my life."
Most Pete's restaurant owners know one another, attend St. George Greek Orthodox Church, socialize and join to make the annual Greek Festival a success.
Como called it a "friendly rivalry."
"Especially if the other one is located 20 miles away," he said. "Then I don't care. But if someone opens one right down the road, I might not like it."
There's no sense in the different Pete's restaurants fighting each other, Conits said.
"You're living in a country that has lots of opportunity," he said. "If you let greed drive you, it doesn't work."
Mastorakis said he could have bought or built a restaurant under a different name when he began. Now that he is building a new restaurant in his parking lot to replace the original Pete's that first opened in 1955, he's not changing.
"We'll keep the name," Mastorakis said. "Pete's has been good for us."
Information from: The Greenville News, http://www.greenvillenews.com