Owner and manager of downtown Wooster’s Matsos Family Restaurant, Spiro Matsos defines his present in terms of people and experiences encountered during his 77 years of life.

Those events reach back to preschool days in Axis-occupied Greece when Matsos would watch the German soldiers pass his home with food and supplies for their troops.

At age 8, Matsos recalls a summer working for his father, during which he absorbed paternal lessons in history and values. "I learned so much," Matsos said.

Imbued with these experiences along with encouragement from his mother to "… go out with your blood boiling in your veins," Matsos decided to move from his Greek homeland. "When you hear about how the best of the world went to the United States to be better, you want to join those ranks," he said.

At age 23, he did just that, landing a job with a jet plane engine manufacturer in Connecticut. Two years later, Matsos was drafted, where that manufacturing experience kept him stateside repairing and building jet engines for the Vietnam War.

In the coming years, Matsos earned his keep singing in New York night clubs. He also opened a restaurant with his wife near Yale University. "We were happy," he said.

Happy, but not settled. "The east and west coasts are the busiest places on earth, but I realized the American America, the one that I think I came for, was in the middle," he said.

"So, when we visited my wife’s parents in Wooster, we went to a show at the Ohio Light Opera … If there was any doubt that we should move here, that was gone," he said adding, "When we walked downtown, we found this place." "This place" became Matsos Family Restaurant with a grand opening on July 14, 1982 "… and the place was packed."

Dishes served at the eatery are largely based on his mother’s and grandmother’s handwritten recipes, preserved in a scrapbook. Egg lemon soup is one. "My mom made this. It is inexpensive — just rice, eggs and lemons — and it is good for the cold," he said. Eggplant moussaka is another, along with stuffed grape leaves. "We used my grandfather’s vineyard to get the actual leaves in Greece," he said.

Then there is the house salad dressing, based on a 100-year-old family recipe. That dressing, another Matsos Restaurant offering, is also mixed and bottled in a specially designed kitchen below the restaurant and sold in grocery stores since 2003. "Looking at this in stores, I feel proud. For years and years, I had the help of my beautiful wife with this," he said.

Matsos’ wife passed away two years ago. "I still feel like my wife is sitting in the back of the restaurant waiting for me and I can imagine my two sons still playing here," he said.

"I think what makes me keep going is all these memories. I still talk to my kids about what we are doing," he said. He also values time spent with 4-year-old grandson Theo. "Now I look to my grandson named after my grandfather and after my middle name. I will tell him all the things my mother and father told me," Matsos said.

"I was married to Pam for over 40 years and I have been a member of the Ohio Light Opera (OLO) for 40 years, so that’s two families for me," he said. That OLO history, depicted in photos covering the Restaurant’s walls, continues for Matsos this summer as he plays a role in the scheduled production of "Devil’s Rider."

"I don’t see anything else but to just keep on going and keep on doing and to find happiness again," he said. "Everything is here. It’s so peaceful and good here."

RECIPES:

Egg Lemon Soup

From the kitchen of Matsos Family Restaurant

8 cups chicken broth

1 cup uncooked rice

4 eggs, separated

juice of 1 ½ lemons

Water

Bring chicken broth to a boil. Add rice and simmer 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from heat.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add egg yolks and beat well. Slowly add lemon juice to eggs, beating constantly. Stir 2 cups of hot broth into the eggs while continuing to beat. When eggs and broth are well mixed, pour mixture into broth and rice. Stir well, heat if needed but do not boil. Makes 18 servings

Moussaka

From the kitchen of Matsos Family Restaurant

4 eggplants, thinly sliced

5 pounds hamburger, browned and drained

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 pound butter, melted

3 cups all-purpose flour

5 cups milk

5 beaten eggs

Brown eggplant slices, then put 2 layers of eggplant over bottom of a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch pan. Top with browned meat, sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Top with another double layer of zucchini.

Prepare moussaka sauce by mixing melted butter and flour together, then whisk in milk and heat slowly until mixture starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Beat hot mixture with mixer at medium speed until it thickens, then stir in beaten eggs. Cook and stir until eggs are incorporated. Pour sauce over eggplant and bake at 410 degrees for 1 hour until light gold in color. Makes 20 servings.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

From the kitchen of Matsos Family Restaurant

1 pound grape leaves, washed

7 eggs, divided

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup onion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons oregano

4 teaspoons dried and crushed mint leaves

4 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups partially cooked rice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup olive oil

1 cup red wine

Juice of 2 lemons

1 cup boiling chicken broth

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Mix 4 eggs, garlic, onion, oregano, mint leaves, cinnamon, rice, salt and pepper together. Put a small amount of meat mixture on each grape leaf, fold in sides of leaf then roll tightly from wide end to seal.

Layer close together in a saucepan, cover with a mixture of olive oil and wine. Cover with a small round plate and simmer for 1 hour.

For sauce, separate 3 eggs. Beat whites until stiff. Continue beating while adding yolks, then lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine boiling chicken broth and cornstarch with a whisk until smooth, slowly add to egg mixture, beating over low heat until eggs are cooked and mixture is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon lemon sauce over cooked grape leaves to serve. Makes 6 servings.