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By Lee Houskeeper
Special to the Noe Valley Voice
Noe Valley Pizza founder Tony Vozaites served one last slice of pizza to his old buddy Gus Konstin at a bittersweet goodbye party for the restaurant, attended by some 70 longtime patrons and friends on Sunday, Aug. 9.
Konstin, who owns John's Grill and was Vozaites' first friend in the United States, told the gathering that Vozaites came over from Greece in 1955 "with only a dream and $30 in his pocket."
"Don't make me so rich, Gus," Vozaites spoke up. "I just had $10!" Vozaites' first job was waiting tables alongside Konstin at Lambros Restaurant. "Look at us now, Gus. God bless America!"
It has been a long and wonderful life in Noe Valley for Tony Vozaites and his wife Thalia, whom he met and married in 1958. Together, the couple saved Tony's tip money over the years, and in 1965 were able to buy the building at 3898 24th Street which housed Linder's Restaurant.
The couple moved in upstairs and in the mid-1970s opened their Noe Valley Pizza Restaurant. Comfortable leather booths, candlelight, and generous servings of good hearty Italian and Greek fare proved popular with Noe Valley natives and customers from around the city.
Over the next two decades, the Vozaites made several moves and leased the restaurant to several tenants, but in 1997 they came back to reopen Noe Valley Pizza with their son Dennis and his wife Maria. Another dozen years went by, as diners savored pasta and Greek salads on white linen tablecloths and bought tens of thousands of pizzas to go.
"The people in Noe Valley are the nicest in the world," says Tony. "We have made so many good friends, but it is time for us to travel again. We want to go back to Greece for a long vacation."
The Vozaites have accepted a generous offer from a French bakery-café to buy the business. La Boulange plans to move in after remodeling this fall (see July/August 2009 Voice).
Tony, Thalia, Dennis, and Maria wish the bakery the very best.
But Tony, who still owns the building and is 74 years young, does not rule out reopening Noe Valley Pizza for a third time when La Boulange's lease runs out in 10 or 20 years.
"Thalia and I can never stay away from all our wonderful friends in Noe Valley for very long."
Lee Houskeeper is a press agent and editor of the news service San Francisco Stories (www.sanfranciscostories.com). He has lived in or near Noe Valley since 1984.