The Best of Crete opened Memorial Day weekend 1983, the same day Joann collapsed from stomach ulcers. She refused medical treatment from paramedics that day, collapsed again and went to the hospital.
"For the first month, I couldn't work. All our friends pitched in," she said. "We couldn't have done it without them. We were so grateful."
Joann and her son Gregory ran the restaurant for 20 years, when Michael took over.
The menu hasn't changed much from the original gyro, Greek salads, rice and meatballs, marinated chicken dinners and hearty moussaka, which is a layered casserole of potatoes, eggplant and ground beef topped with a cheese sauce. Michael added healthy options like grilled chicken and veggie gyros when he took over.
"I cook and I fix what I like to eat," said Joann, who is working with Best of Crete employees and women in her church, St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Kanawha City, to convert her memorized recipes into written form. The church holds its annual Greek Dinner and Pastry Sale Nov. 14.
Making dishes, such as stuffed grape leaves and the delicately layered pastries, is labor-intensive, but 11-year employee Jackie Stone enjoys making them. The grape leaves have won the Taste of Charleston's highest award.
Best of Crete employees know the regulars and often plate their order when they see them coming. Many customers are downtown business people who know their Greek food, but newcomers often ask for explanations of the food. Gyro is pronounced "jeer oh," by the way.
A self-described people person, Joann enjoys her days behind the counter, her volunteer hours at her church and traveling with senior groups.
"Life has its ups and downs. When we came to the United States and my husband became a chemical engineer, we had four sons and we were up," she said. "Later, he became ill and we went to the bottom. I am happy now."
Best of Crete in the Picnic Place in the Town Center mall, is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. They also cater. Call 304-343-3292.Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.