The Story Behind
Ever heard the expression, “Happy wife, happy life?” Well, Sam Gogos has, too. So when his wife Joanne started complaining that his house painting business required too much traveling and was keeping him away from his home and their two young children, he knew it was time to find a new career. As Greek immigrants, delicious food was a major part of the Gogos family’s life. So Sam decided to look to the restaurant industry for a career that could keep him close to home in their beloved Buffalo.
First, he learned the ropes at the local outlet of the popular Greek restaurant chain, Ted’s. Then he opened his own joint, Sammy’s Texas Hots. He ran that for 25 years. But as their kids grew, so did Sam and Joanne’s passion for the restaurant business. So when they saw that Watson’s restaurant, which could seat up to 150 people, was for sale, they made an offer.
Watson’s had been a neighborhood landmark for decades, a place where the owners sold their homemade candy at the counter. But when the candymaking business took off, the Watson family decide to devote themselves to the confectionery business, which they still run today.
The Gogos’ knew that to make their business a success they’d have to put their own mark on it. So they shut Watson’s, spent a year renovating the place, and reopened it in 1993 as The Plaka, a classic family restaurant with a Greek accent. Since that day The Plaka has served breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a wealth of homemade Greek specialties from the familiar (moussaka) to the exotic (bougatsa—a cream-filled pastry that’s the specialty of Sam’s home region of Epiros).
The Plaka quickly became a local favorite—it’s the place where people hang out all day long when the power’s been knocked out by a winter storm, where parents go when they need to be sure a restaurant will welcome their boisterous kids, where students go for a hearty meal that won’t cut into their loan payments.
And it’s remained a family affair. Sam and Joanne still cook their now-legendary Greek specialties, and their son Telly dreams up soup recipes and makes sure that the place stays running smoothly. Their daughter Rachel now lives out of town, but when she’s around, she pitches in as well. This family-run vibe may be why so many customers say that The Plaka feels just like home—only with better food! Come join the family.
Authentic Greek Goodness Mixed with All-American Romance: A Recipe for Success
Although Sam (a.ka. Sotirios) and Joanne were both born in Greece, their romance was made in the U.S.A. Here’s the story of how αγορι (boy) met κοριτσι (girl):
Sam was the youngest of 12 children who were born in Epiros, the poorest region of Greece. Two of his brothers had emigrated to the Buffalo area, so when he was a teenager they sent him the same suit each of them had worn coming over (and the only one they had), and he put it on and set off for the US. The year was 1954.
Almost a decade later, Joanne, the youngest of three daughters of an Athenian shoemaker, came to Niagara Falls, Canada (due to the strict immigration laws in 1964 Greek tourists were not allowed to enter the United States) to visit her middle sister who had settled in Buffalo with her husband. Wanting to be a good host, Joanne’s brother-in-law offered to set her up with his friend John, and showed her a picture of his three best buddies. Joanne agreed to the blind date, even though she thought another guy in the picture was cuter—you guessed it, Sam.
Cold-feet got the best of John and canceled the date at the eleventh hour, so Joanne’s brother-in-law tapped Sam as a last-minute replacement. They hit it off and, a few weeks later, the young lovebirds decided to get married. But there was one problem: Joanne’s tourist visa was about to run out. However, where there’s a will there’s a way, and she found a way to stay in Niagara Falls, Canada until it was time for the wedding. Sam, meanwhile, was working as a paint contractor in Syracuse. Almost every evening he’d drive from Syracuse to Niagara Falls and back, crossing international borders just to take Joanne to dinner.
They got married on New Year’s Day of 1965 in Niagara Falls, and had two children, Rachel, who offers input on the Plaka from Pennsylvania where she’s raising the two Gogos granddaughters, and Telly, who now manages the restaurant with them in the restaurant daily. And almost 50 years after that long international commute, Sam and Joanne are still working—and cooking—together.