The Early Life of Dino Karayiannis
Constantinos Nicolas Karayiannis aka “Dino” was born on February 22, 1941 in Doliana, Greece. He was the son of olive farmers in a small village in a rural mountain town north of Tripoli. His father left for America after World War II when Dino was very young. This left Dino to help tend to many of the tasks on the family farm. School was not Dino’s strong suit and he stopped attending after the 6th grade. He helped his mom and his younger sister work the family farm until his midteens. In 1956 at the age of 15 and with $7 dollars in his pocket, Dino followed his father across The Atlantic. He arrived in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada by way of St. Lawrence.
Dino’s father had been in Canada for several years and had worked as a cook in several restaurants. The two would set out to open a Coffee Shop. The venture did not last long. Dino left and the shop closed. The coffee shop, abandoned by his father, was in debt at the time it closed. Dino, knowing right from wrong, eventually paid all debts before moving on to Toronto.
In Toronto, Dino was taken in by an older gentleman by the name of Gus Pappas. Gus took Dino under his wing and helped mold the very young man. He helped him find employment and gave him a place to live. Dino’s older cousin Cynthia, also lived in job
Toronto, and helped him as well. In addition to working in restaurants, Dino had jobs working in a bowling alley setting pins, working as a “soda jerk” in an ice cream shop, and digging worms for $3 per day. Digging for worms was his all time least favorite job he would say later. It was the kitchen work in restaurants however, that he really enjoyed and thrived at.
Dino would soon meet up with his father again in Chicago. Dino had other family there as well. By this time, Dino was older and had accumulated some money. He and his cousin, who showed him around town, began to enjoy the finer things that money could buy. Dino became accustomed to things like nice suits and Italian leather shoes. Although he would constantly send money home to his mother, he started to enjoy himself. He would work hard day and night but enjoyed his time off in the city with family and friends.
The cold “windy city” wore on him after a while, as did his father. He would venture east to Buffalo, NY for a brief stay and then travel to New York City. His cousin Amelia lived in the Jamaica section of Queens and she took him in. Now hard working and into his twenty’s, Dino would soon find fortune in the Big Apple.
New York was the place where a hard working person could make something of himself. Dino would work day and night at 2 jobs; in diners and coffee shops. He worked hard and saved his money. He was also gaining more valuable knowledge of the restaurant business. While waiting tables at 7 Brothers Coffee Shop in The Bronx, he met his wife to be, Marianna.
He faced the same issues that many of today’s immigrants face. Marianna’s parents were not thrilled that their only daughter was dating a “dishwasher”. That “dishwasher”, who actually was a waiter by this time, was doing very well for himself. The money being made in the diners in New York City in the 1960’s was substantial. Dino who was working night and day, accumulated a nice little “nest egg”. He would soon asked Marianna to marry him. She did and they rented an apartment in a nice section of The Bronx. They would soon give birth to two children Nicolas and then Andrea.
The early 1970’s in New York City were tumultuous. Crime was rising and the city was drifting towards bankruptcy. It was the beginning of a dark period in the city and was not promising for raising a young family. Although Dino was doing very well and
making good money, he moved the family to Vineland, New Jersey to raise his family in a better environment.
Vineland was a nice place to raise a family. Dino and Marianna found a home with a big yard, in a nice neighborhood. Soon, a third child, George, was born. The only problem in Vineland was the pay. The diner’s and restaurant’s in South Jersey were paying about half of what Dino was accustomed to making in New York City. This was tough. Dino would work day and night, at times having three jobs to make ends meet. Soon Marianna would go back to work to help the now financially struggling family survive. The other problem was that by this time, Dino had a lot of experience in the restaurant business. Dino was not shy about voicing his opinion when he did not agree with what he was being told to do. This led to him quitting and leaving many jobs during this time. He dreamed of owning his own establishment.
Dino was given a break in 1975. John Stavros of Olga’s Diner wanted to open a restaurant in Sicklerville, Washington Township. Taking a chance on a diligent, hard working employee, he let Dino run the place and even named it after him, “Pappa Dino’s”. This was a big break and contributed greatly to his working knowledge of the business since he would be responsible for all aspects of the establishment. He could not have been happier. The place initially did well and Dino was quite a hit with the local community. He interacted well with the customers and they liked the place. Gaining the additional knowledge of employee payroll and suppliers was a real plus. As time went on though, the rural farm community did not live up to its promise. Financial considerations of the owners eventually led to Pappa Dino’s closing. Dino was forced back to working for someone else as a cook again. Now, the dream of owning a restaurant burned brighter than ever. It was not long after this that Dino would set out to discover the promise of things to come in Cape May County.
ON THE WAY TO CAPE MAY, THE BEGINNING
The year was 1977. His family was away for an Easter holiday with family in New York City. Dino Karayiannis had had enough. Working at a Vineland restaurant where he was increasingly unhappy, he quit his job. Dino had been scanning the classified ads in search of his dream; his own restaurant. The search led to the intersection of U.S Route 9 and N.J. State Highway 50, in Seaville, New Jersey; The Girls Wayside Kitchen was for sale. It was once a truck stop along the way to Cape May before the Garden State Parkway was constructed through Cape May County. The gas station was eventually closed but the restaurant remained open. It was a nice little eatery in a quiet little village in the Upper Township section of Cape May County. Seeing the establishment stoked the flames of his long time dream. After prodding his wife Marianna, a call for monetary assistance was made to his father-in-law who immediately obliged. The deal was soon struck and The Girls Wayside Kitchen became Dino’s Wayside Kitchen.
Dino took ownership of the establishment right before the summer of 1977. He immediately knew he could make a success of the place by applying the lessons learned from a lifetime in the restaurant business. He worked tirelessly that first year. He commuted from Vineland early every morning and went back home late every evening. He was determined to succeed. The combination of a good location, good food, reasonable prices and a personable proprietor all contributed to his early success and gaining the favor of the local community.
Day trips where common in those days. The island towns of Ocean City, Sea Isle City, and The Wildwood’s were all a short drive away. The summer tourists who visited the shore went home by way of going north on Route 9 or exiting the parkway at exit 20 and proceeding up Route 50. This caused traffic jams for hours right at the front door; a restaurateur’s dream. There was also the area’s unknown gem; the campgrounds. There were many in the area and their inhabitants took a liking to Dino’s as well. The campground customers soon became “summer regulars”, returning year after year. Dino knew he had found his dream. He proceeded to sell the family home in Vineland and hired a contractor to build a new home for the family in a development up the road from the business.
Settled in his new home with his family close by and able to help, he worked, and worked and worked. With the help of his wife, Marianna, the business really took off and was a real success. Dino’s Wayside Kitchen soon gave way to Dino’s Restaurant. He tirelessly worked several years with few days off.
An itch however, soon struck Dino. It was the dream of many Greek Immigrants in America to own a “diner”. Many Greek Immigrants upon their arrival in the 1950’s and 1960’s were first employed in diners. Owners would share their knowledge of the business and attempt to teach the skills necessary to succeed in the diner business. Dino watched, listened and learned. The seeds were planted and the dreams of a diner had taken root.
Now, the time was near and Dino could see that his dream of owning a diner was possible!
He soon began to think of how to achieve his goal. The corner property across the street (site of the current Shell Gas Station) was a commercial parcel and Dino thought it would be the perfect spot for a new establishment. It was right across the street from the existing business and sat at the junction of three major highways, U.S. Route 9, State Highway 50 and Exit 20 off the Garden State Parkway. It was a much larger lot and able to accommodate a larger place than the existing “triangle” parcel that Dino’s Restaurant currently occupied. But the owner refused to sell the land to Dino. No matter the offer, time and time again, he vowed “never” to sell the land to Dino.
Not to be deterred, Dino soon bought some parcels from the local mayor. Although not an “ideal” location, it did sit on State Highway and was just up the road from the present establishment. Dino figured that his existing “good name” and “good food” would draw people to the new establishment. Dino also saw the opportunity for growth in the area as casino gambling was just beginning in Atlantic City. New casino workers were beginning to discover what he already knew; Upper Township was a nice place to raise a family and was close to the shore towns and beaches. Dino believed that this was the perfect place to grow a new business. In May of 1982, those not so “ideal” parcels in Seaville soon gave birth to the present establishment, Dino’s Seaville Diner.
THE BIRTH OF DINO’S SEAVILLE DINER
The country was in the middle of an economic downturn in the early 1980’s. It was a huge gamble to build a new place in the current environment. Many people thought he was crazy to expand and that he would fail. Yet none of that deterred a man with a dream and the desire to do what it took to achieve it. He soon contracted with Kullman Industries of North Jersey for the purchase of a diner. The diner was “The Flamingo Diner” which once sat in Brooklyn, New York City. Kullman would take the old Flamingo, renovate it, and ship the reconditioned diner to Seaville in seven sections. It was quite a sight to see coming down the road!
Unable to obtain a bank loan, Kullman Industries agreed to finance their end of the project with the diner land, Dino’s home (and that of his partner’s at the time) as collateral.
Interest rates on the loans were 19%. Dino was also able to convince some of the local contractors who were customers, to do their work on credit. He vowed he would pay them in time. It all came together and the business opened just before Memorial Day weekend in 1982.
To kick things off, Dino’s opened with a huge party. A band played, the staff partied and many locals and regular customers were invited to the grand opening celebration; it was quite a time. However, the real work would soon begin.
A larger establishment meant larger responsibilities. Though an ample staff was hired, there was a lot of work and a lot of kinks to be worked out. One of the biggest issues that needed to be resolved was whether to remain open 24 hours a day. It was tried and clearly a mistake. There was not enough business to sustain a 24 hour a day operation. The cost to operate 24 hours was not only a financial strain but a physical and mental one as well. Dino did not like the fact that the place was open and he was not able to supervise it to ensure things were being done “his way”. Thus, the decision was made to close at 11pm nightly.
The first summer season came and went and was a big success. The first “off season” was another matter. The year round local business was not as robust as it is today. The area was still only in the beginning stages of the first building boom
ushered in by the growth in Atlantic City.
As the area grew, so did the reputation of the diner. In town and in the surrounding communities Dino’s became know for homemade food, plenty of it, reasonable prices, and a friendly staff. Dino would be at the diner day and night greeting and talking to customers as they came and went making sure that his plan was followed. Customers were happy and that made Dino not only happy, but proud. Dino’s successful formula worked for him and his diner for over 30 years until his sudden death from Leukemia in February 2008.
In September of 2007, Dino finally realized one of his long held dreams and returned to Greece for a month long vacation before the end of the summer season. Greece was beautiful during September and he was very excited. Following his
vacation, Dino returned home feeling worn out. This was very unusual for him. He would often return home from Greece enthusiastic and recharged after visiting family and friends. He loved Greece and it was always his dream to retire back to the “old country”.
Around the Thanksgiving holiday, his fatigue worsened to the point of him getting up and leaving Thanksgiving Diner early to go home. At this point his family insisted he go to doctor and get a check up. The following Monday his doctor gave him a clean bill of health and just told him to rest. He was also told to call back for results of blood work that was done. The next day he received a phone call from the doctor and was told immediately go to the hospital. It was there that he was told he had leukemia. His white blood cell count was extremely high. Two days later he was transfered to the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. There, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). This required him to undergo a very aggressive chemotherapy treatment which would last until August of the following year. Complications soon arose. He endured several bouts of unconsciousness and was allergic to several of the pain
medications that were given to him. He contracted a fungal infection in his lung. Always optomistic, he battled through and endured the chemotherapy treatments. He was determined to “beat” leukemia.
When the time came to begin rehab to gain his strength back, he did it. It seemed as though he was getting better. It was then that the doctors began to question whether or not he had had a stroke. Dark areas of the brain kept showing up on his CAT scans. It was at this point the doctor’s realized that the fungal infection in his lungs had traveled to his brain. There was nothing they could do, it was incurable. The shame of it was that the chemotherapy treatments were successful and his blood counts were normal.
Three weeks later on February 6th, 2008 he passed away. He was content knowing that he did everything he could. He also was content knowing that he lived a good life, accomplishing many of his goals and dreams.
Constantinos Nicolas Karayiannis, “Dino”, 66, Seaville NJ.
Dino passed peacefully from us on Wednesday February 6th after courageously battling an aggressive form of leukemia. He was a beloved husband, father, papou, son-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle and friend to many. He was the proud owner of Dino’s Seaville Diner in Seaville, New Jersey. He was an avid walker and truly enjoyed the company of his many friends, relations and customers. He was an active member of Cannon Masonic Lodge No. 104 F.&A.M., The Crescent Shriners, The OC/UT Noon Rotary club, The UT Pro Club, AHEPPA Chapter #A162, and The Society of Dolianation of Canada and United States. He was born in his beloved town of Dolinia, Greece on February 22, 1941. He migrated to Canada at the age of 15 in 1954 and then to The United States in 1961. He settled in Seaville in 1977 after purchasing The Girls Wayside Kitchen and has been an active contributing member of the community ever since. He is survived by his loving wife of 40 years, Marianna; son George & wife Michelle, granddaughters Alina and Sophia. Daughter Andrea & husband Robert, grandson Dino. Son Nicolas & wife Michelle, granddaughter Vanessa & grandson Andrew. Sister Stavoula and husband Stefanos. Mother-in-Law Anna and many other loving nieces, nephews and relations. Family and friends are invited to celebrate his life on Monday, February 11th from 2pm-4pm, & 7pm-9pm at the Langley-Loveland Funeral Home, 2315 Route 50,
Tuckahoe, NJ 08250 and on Tuesday February 12th 10am-11am at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 322 St. Demetrios Ave., North Wildwood, NJ 08260. A service will immediately follow. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to Dino’s Charity for Children Inc., P.O. Box 101, Seaville, NJ 08230.