Lefeeris Retzos' story is a true American tale.
Retzos - whose American nickname is Ted - is the owner of Spuckies 'n Pizza, a Washington Street restaurant that has long been a Lower Mills institution. Last year, Retzos staked his claim to a second neighborhood business when he bought the former Lil' Peach convenience store. Just before Christmas, he re-opened the renovated 2500 square foot store as Metamorphosis of Lower Mills.
"Metamorphosis in the Greek means to me 'change'," he explains. "We made a big change from what it was when it was a Li'l Peach. Every week, we work from opening the store at 6 in the morning to 10 o'clock at night. We try to do something different."
Retzos was the first of six children in a Greek family that was born and brought up in Albania, a neighboring country that for much of the last century was under the influence of Soviet Russia.
"Albania was a communist system, for 40 years, run by a dictator," Retzos said this week at a table of the Spukies n' Pizza shop. "(In Albania) you can't talk, you can't do this, do that - no freedom, no economy. You go in a store and you can't find anything.
"When the Soviet bloc came down, everybody was happy about that. So I went to the Greek embassy in Albania, and said I want to go to Greece. We got the passports, and the visas, and went to Greece, but always I wanted to go to the United States, because the United States, for us, was God."
In Greece, he said, he sought a way to emigrate to America.
"I went to the US embassy, and I told them I was looking for asylum in the US. After I waited 17 months, one day they called me and they told me, you know what, you're going to the United States.
"It was the most beautiful thing in my life, the first most beautiful thing in my life."
Arriving in Boston, Retzos and his wife and young son moved into a spare room in a relatives' home in Quincy, and at 30 years of age he went looking for work. He found it at the Greek-owned 57 Restaurant in downtown Boston, where he worked as a busboy for two years.
"It was hard at the beginning," he said, because he faced a language barrier, as he could not speak English. Today he says proudly, "I speak three languages, Albanian, Greek and English."
Retzos spent two years as a busboy, but saw his future limited. "After a couple of years, I left, because after busboy, you become a waiter - that's the highest you can go."
So he found a job in a small pizza restaurant in Canton and learned the business. Fifteen years ago, he learned that the Spukies 'n Pizza shop on Washington Street in Lower Mills was for sale, and he purchased the business. He and his younger brother Stavros, who had followed him to America, are partners in the Lower Mills business.
Last year, he says a developer bought the closed Li'l Peach next door to his restaurant, and inquired about buying his business. "I said 'no,' " he said. "After a couple of weeks he came back and said, 'Are you interested to buy the Li'l Peach?' I said, 'Yes, I am interested, let's talk.' So I bought it."
"We started by changing all the building, inside and outside, to make it look beautiful," he told the Reporter this week. "Inside, we try to put some international food - some Greek, some Irish, Lebanese, some organic food. I said to my brother let's start that way now, and see what people are looking for. If people ask for things, we will get it for them.
"Down the road we plan to have wine, or beer and wine. So that's going to make the store a little more interesting. People are starting to keep coming, and they know we are here people are very excited, they come inside and say wow that's a beautiful store.
"I see a big change around here in the neighborhood, Retzos says. "I think it's for the good, and it's welcome. I see a lot of changes around. Metamorphosis is a beautiful, beautiful store. We invite everybody to come in and see the beautiful store we have here. We promise them that we are going to have friendly service, and very nice family atmosphere. We want to have good service for everybody."
The brothers are making an application with the City of Boston to add a beer and wine license to their new business, and Retzos says he will seek the support of the local neighborhood group later this month. A public hearing has been set for the application on Jan. 28 at City Hall.
"We have so far more than 300 signatures, so that means we have great support from the neighborhood," Ted Retzos says. "On the 28th, there will be a hearing at City Hall. We would like to go with a beer and wine, but if they like just the wine, we go with just the wine, that is no problem. So whatever the neighborhood wants."