"I feel this is my country now"
When John Arvanitis, 56, moved to Astoria, Queens in 1974 he found that the area was filled with coffee shops and diners, but devoid of the type of cafes ubiquitous in his native Greece. So, he opened his own. “Omonia Cafe” initially only sold coffee and pastries; today it has two pastry shops and a large restaurant — they even baked the wedding cake for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”!
Courtney: Why did you move to America, and to New York?
John: “To be honest to you, I came to see America, what it’s all about; like the ‘American Dream.’ Everybody wants to see America. I have a sister here who’s married with a couple of kids, so I came to see my nephews. Then I decided this is a good country, a strong country, there are good things here. To compare to my country — I’m from Greece — there’s a big difference in the business way, life wise, but I see everything with more opportunities here. A lot of opportunities. So I decided to stay here for a little more, then a little more, and then I started to love it. And then I decided, in 1974, 1975, when I was here, that it was missing a cafe like this. Back then they had diners and coffee shops, that’s all they had. So I had the idea, but I didn’t have the money to do it right away. I started in 1977, with a small amount of money, I started with $19,000. That was the amount of money I had. And then the cafe got bigger and bigger and bigger. Thank God today I’m okay, you know?”
Courtney: What does the work immigrant, or migrant, mean to you?
John: “Immigrant means people from different countries. I’m an immigrant too; I came here from a different country.”
Courtney: Is there any way that you bring your home with you?
John: “Of course, always I think about my life in Greece, how I grew up, and everything. I miss it, I go there once a year and see it, but always come back here. I feel this is my country now.”
Courtney: Is being an American, or living in America, different from what you expected it would be?
John: “America, no, when I came back then, I loved the way it is. I love the roots in this country, I love the opportunities, of course it’s not the European style of life, it’s different, but it’s much better here. More opportunities, more things to do here. My country, like a lot of other countries, is very conservative, very small, the opportunities are much less than here. Here, if you’re smart and you know what you want to do, you can do it in this country.”
Courtney: What has your greatest challenge as an immigrant been?
John: “I see the opportunities for business, doing business. You can grow and go very high here, go as high as you want. You can be anybody you want to be in this country. You can be a doctor, you can be a businessman, you can be a lawyer, you can be anything you want. They give you all the opportunities to be high in life. No other country gives you this opportunity. I love America. I do love America. I’m here, I have family here, everything is here. “