For a 19-year-old kid who came to Charlotte with $11 and not a word of English, Jimmie Pourlos managed to leave a lot of marks on Charlotte.
Pourlos died Saturday at the age of 85. The longtime owner of Jimmie’s Restaurant, first on Elizabeth Avenue and later relocated in Mint Hill, he was a part of the large community of Greek families who were once the core of the restaurant world here.
Pourlos helped to start Yiasou, the annual Greek festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on East Boulevard. When it was started in 1978 by “Father C” – the Rev. Phaeton Constantinides, who ran the church for 30 years – and Gus Nixon, they asked Pourlos to help them. He served as the festival treasurer for 23 years and his wife, Ronnie, a longtime member of the Holy Trinity choir, was one of the women who did the cooking. It’s now one of the biggest events in Charlotte every September.
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“Charlotte was so tight back then,” his son Chris Pourlos said Monday. A wave of Greeks came to Charlotte starting in the 1900s and continuing into the 1950s. And many of them ended up in the restaurant business.
“Most of them, there was no education (in Greece),” says Panos Photopoulos, who still owns the French Quarter in Latta Arcade. “And the job they would find was in the kitchens, washing the pots. They knew the (Greek) language and could get along. So it was a good job.”
Pourlos came to America in 1951.
Chris Pourlos said his father had lost most of his family in the Greek civil war. “Being the only surviving son, his father sent him here,” he said. The family had relatives in Charlotte, the Economos family, who owned Lindy’s Grill, which later became the Gondola. Pourlos had never met them and didn’t speak English, but he quickly got two jobs: at Lindy’s and at The Maid, a little restaurant across from Central High School.
The owner of The Maid only had daughters, no sons. And daughters usually didn’t run restaurants in the 1950s. So when the owner got sick two years later, he needed to leave the restaurant to someone who could take over.
“Dad was that guy,” says Pourlos. Renamed “Jimmie’s,” it became a popular hangout with the high school students. It was so popular that Pourlos ended up marrying a Central High student, Ronnie Raillis. She was born in Charlotte, but her parents were from Greece, too.
Chris Pourlos’ favorite story: His own wife, Athena, was the daughter of Greek immigrants who grew up in Maryland. When he met his father-in-law, they compared stories and discovered that he was on the same ship from Greece with Jimmie Pourlos.
“Isn’t that funny? They probably passed each other on the boat.”
When CPCC started to grow in the early 1970s, Pourlos started taking classes there himself and eventually got his license as a real estate broker.
“That was one of his greatest achievements,” Chris Pourlos said.
In 2003, the Pourlos family sold their location and relocated to Mint Hill, closer to where the family lived. Chris and his brother Deno still operate the restaurant today.
Central High alumni, particularly from the classes of 1954-59, still come to Jimmie’s in Mint Hill for reunion lunches.
“Some of the classes have 40 or 50 people with their spouses,” Chris Pourlos says. “I graduated in 1978, and I can’t tell you the last time I saw a classmate.
“Dad’s whole life, really, was the restaurant. Even after he retired. That’s where he made all his friendships.”