A resident whose colourful personality, entrepreneurial acumen and community involvement helped give Cranbrook the unique identity it enjoys today, has passed away.
George Georgopoulos, founder of the Apollo restaurant and the Seniors’ Dinner, and other Cranbrook “firsts” of note, passed away Wednesday, August 26, at 2 p.m.
George’s life as a restaurateur and community supporter is writ large in recent local history.
He was born in 1930, in the village of Kavasila, Greece, and grew up there during the febrile times before, during and after World War II. He emigrated to Canada with his wife Maria in 1960. After living in Calgary and Claresholm, Alberta, the family moved to Cranbrook in 1972. Since then, George had an oversized impact on Cranbrook, Cranbrook culture and the people of Cranbrook.
Along with four partners (whom he eventually bought out), he took over the old “Steakhouse” on the Strip — a dining and dancing place with a coffee shop. This became the Apollo — an iconic restaurant to this day — and one of the few places in Cranbrook at the time to keep late hours well past midnight. Throughout the decades, the restaurant centred around George’s warm personality and colourful entrepreneurship.
The Apollo always had a faithful clientele of regulars — lunch, dinner, and “bar rush.”
“George made people feel important,” said George’s daughter-in-law Shannon. “He never singled anyone out, never held a grudge. He was a people person.”
“People who worked for him remember him as one of the best bosses they ever had,” said daughter-in-law Linda. “They never said they worked for the Apollo, they said they worked for George.”
He treated his clientele the same way. If a customer found oneself short on the bill at dinner’s end, he could come back later to pay. If a homeless person wandered into the restaurant, George would often treat him to a plate of spaghetti. He only charged police officers five dollars when they came in for dinner — so the officers called him Five-Buck George.
George believed in the barter system, and practiced it a lot in his business dealings.
But along with these personal, altruistic traits, George was a sharp businessman, and the Apollo prospered. He hosted banquets for all Cranbrook’s service clubs, and developed a strong relationship with Cranbrook’s Italian community.
In 1982, George, along with Joe Sherbo, started the annual Cranbrook Seniors’ Dinner. For its first two years it was held at the Inn of the South, then in 1984 it moved to the Cristoforo Colombo Lodge.
“They’d never had that many people there,” said George’s son Dennis. “They had to get a special permit for 500 people.”
George would approach local businesses, asking for donations for door prizes. He would also ask all the service groups in town — Kinsmen, Rotary, Gyro, etc.— to send a couple of representatives to help out. This way, the Seniors’ Dinner became the true community event it still is today.
The Seniors’ Dinner, now run by the Colombo Lodge and Cranbrook Rotary, is the largest event for seniors in southeast B.C.
It’s no exaggeration to say George’s community involvement changed Cranbrook in many ways. His was the first business to sponsor a Sam Steele Sweetheart candidate (only service clubs had been involved before this).
He is also renowned for organizing the first “international float” in the Sam Steele Days parade. This involved George decking out his ’63 Cadillac, and having family members and visiting relatives from Greece walk alongside in traditional garb.
“He never said no to an organization,” said his daughter Tasia. “Anyone who approached him for anything got it. She cited George’s buying the jackets for a women’s curling team as one example of many instances. He got involved with the United Way, and every year donated to the Food Bank. Safeway supported him in a lot of his endeavors.
George’s support of sports, was huge, especially with local hockey. He provided the most important year-end for the WHL’s Kootenay Ice during their 20-season tenure in Cranbrook — the Most Valuable Player award.
But George had originally wanted to sponsor the same award he had for the former Cranbrook Colts and Cranbrook Royals — the award for Most Penalty Minutes.
“The Kootenay Ice told him no,” George’s son Peter said. “He had to do Most Valuable Player instead.”
George was named Cranbrook’s Citizen of the Year in 1986. He was a recipient of the Paul Harris Fellow award from the Rotary Club, where he was a long-time member.
George Georgopoulos made Cranbrook his home, and found it a perfect location for his larger than life personality and his great, warm heart.
The viewing will be open to the public Monday, Aug. 31, at 7:30 – 8:30 p.m. at McPherson Funeral Chapel. The service for George Georgopoulos will be at Tuesday, Sept. 1 at Westlawn Cemetary at 1 p.m.