OUR AREA HAS been influenced by many people. Those people are not simply limited to the United States and Canada, but also Europe. Our local restaurant business was greatly influenced by Greek immigrants.
John Capos was one such immigrant. John Nicholas Capos was born 144 years ago, on June 12, 1879. He was born in Kefalonia, Greece. Kefalonia is on a rugged Ionian Island off the western coast of mainland Greece. Early inhabitants of the island were called Leleges and worshiped the ancient Greek god of the sea, Poseidon.
John was ambitious at an early age. At ten years of age John went to Constantinople, Turkey, with his father. There, John started his working career. In our time employing a ten-year-old would be considered child abuse. In 1889 it was a more common practice. School was not so normal as it is now.
John traveled and worked in various countries, including Turkey, Armenia, and Romania. In 1894, at the age of 14, John witnessed the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Empire. Sultan Abdul Hamid II was attempting to maintain the declining Ottoman Empire. Casualties were estimated to be between 100,000 and 300,000. It was absolutely dreadful time in the eyes of a 14-year-old.
John also worked in the oil fields of Romania. At the time, Romania was one of the largest producers of oil in the world.
In his late 20s John returned to Greece. He had earned enough money to build a home for his parents. On October 8, 1909, he married Stavrula Antipas in his hometown of Kefalonia. I suspect being married altered John’s perspective on life. Neither war nor dangerous work was compatible with starting a family.
Soon, John and Stavrula moved to San Franscisco. John worked in the restaurant business. They soon had four children.
In 1916 the Capos family moved to Port Angeles. John’s uncle, Tilemachos (Tom) Vasilatos, was a pioneer restaurant man in Port Angeles and he urged John to come here. Tilemachos Vasilatos was another Greek immigrant who arrived in Port Angeles in 1911.
John first worked as a cook in the Washington Café, which was located at First and Laurel Streets. In 1918 he opened his own café, the St. Francis Café. His café was located in a hotel by the same name.
The St. Francis Hotel was built in 1890. It was a large three-story building on the north side of Front Street between Laurel and Oak Streets. In the winter of 1931 during a severe northeast storm, the hotel and café were destroyed by fire.
With the loss of his business, John had a decision to make. He was, after all, now 52 years old. He decided to start over. John, and his friend Sam Kallas (another Greek immigrant) decided to start up a new café.
Like Tom Vasilatos, both men were considered pioneer Port Angeles restaurant men. John came to Port Angeles in 1916. Sam came in 1922.
They found a location less than a block away at 128 East Front Street. John already had faithful customers.
They decided to have a contest to let the community name his new café. The prize would be five dollars. They wanted a name that reflected the nature of the establishment, which will feature lunches and beer or coffee. Five dollars was a good amount in 1934. That’s equivalent to around $125 today.
They received more than 100 letters suggesting names. The winner was “Doggie” Purvis. Purvis submitted “Duck Inn, for sandwiches, beer, and coffee.” Not only was it the winning name, but Purvis also included a sketch of a duck in a hurry to get there.
The Duck Inn was soon open 24 hours a day. The sign in the window said, “we never close, we threw away the key.” They advertised “Next to Home, This Is the Best Place To Eat.”
An oil painting by local artist Thomas Guptill titled “Port Angeles Gun Club” was glued to the wall for many years. This painting is 3 feet tall by 13 feet wide. This painting is being safely preserved at the North Olympic History Center.
The Duck Inn filled an important niche in the restaurant business. It filled the need of shift workers at the mills, truckers who were hauling at all hours of the night, and sport fishermen planning to get an early start.
In 1960 a large birthday cake was made and decorated in the form of a large mallard duck. It was for Sam Kallas’ birthday. It was reported, though, that, “Like Jack Benny, his age is rather a mystery, but rumor has it that Sam celebrated his 68th birthday.”
One amusing story arose on December 27, 1965. The weather was nasty. Too nasty to be wandering around, even for a duck. A duck, of purported high intelligence, was strolling down Front Street around 7 a.m. The duck decided to go indoors at, where else, the Duck Inn. Of course, the customers loved having the café’s namesake join them for breakfast.
In 1947, at age 68, John Capos retired from the restaurant business. Sam Kallas continued to operate the café until he retired around 1972. The café continued under the ownership of John Rebelos until 1975.
When we personally consider the history of our favorite eating spots, we find it hard to quickly accept change. We liked it the way it was. Those who frequented the Duck Inn certainly enjoyed it. But change happens and is inevitable. The patrons of the Duck Inn gradually dwindled over time and people’s tastes in food changed.
Many of us remember the more recent uses of 128 East Front. In 1975 it became the Godfather restaurant. The popular Godfather movie trilogy began in 1972.
In 1981 the location was vacant. It soon became The Wharf. Later this location became Cactus Jak’s Restaurant and Arcade. For a time, Poser Yoga used this location. Currently, it is the Spruce restaurant.
John Capos died on February 6, 1956. He was 76 years old. Stravula Capos died on September 4, 1950. Their children continued to support our community. We can appreciate the positive impact Greek immigrants, like John and Stravula Capos, had upon our community.
John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at email@example.com.