Majestic Lunch: New York City kidnapping led to life in small town

By Geri Gibbons - For Sunday Dispatch
Harry Salavantis, owner of Majestic Lunch, poses for a portrait during lunch at his South Main Street restaurant in Pittston. - Sean McKeag | Sunday Dispatch
The late Stanley Salavantis is shown here at Majestic Lunch in Pittston. - Sean McKeag | Sunday Dispatch
A 1954 menu is displayed on the wall of the Majestic Lunch in Pittston. - Sean McKeag | Sunday Dispatch
Pete Pezzino, 82, of Pittston, poses for a picture as he has coffee at Majestic Lunch on Pittston’s South Main Street. Pezzino moved to Pittston 41 years ago and was friends with the restaurant’s late owner Stanley Salavantis. - - Sean McKeag | Sunday Dispatch

Had Harry Salavantis not been kidnapped from his family’s apartment in the early 1950s, the Majestic Lunch, which sits at 20 S. Main St., Pittston, might not have become the family business.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, as Salavantis sat enjoying a few “Texas Wieners” for which the eatery is known, he recalled the story of his parents moving from New York City with three small children to make a better, safer life.

“I was taken by a man that the neighbor watching me thought was my uncle,” he said. “When my mother realized I had been taken, she frantically searched the neighborhood. She found me because I was crying so loud because I just wanted to go home.”

When his parents Stanley and Nitsa Salavantis had the opportunity, along with Stanley’s sister Dena and her husband John Lekas, to buy the Pittston restaurant from the Stathakis family in 1954, they jumped at the chance to raise their family in a small town setting.

The eatery had already been established as the “Majestic Lunch” with its signature hotdog, complete with its unique chili sauce a favorite of locals, when Stanley took over.

Harry remembers his father working up to 16 hours to make the restaurant a success.

“We were the first family with air conditioning on our block,” Harry said. “Because my dad would work until three in the afternoon and come home to sleep for a few hours during the hottest part of the day and then go back and work until late at night.”

During those first years, Majestic Lunch was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It never closed,” said Salavantis. “They came after basketball games, after church, after social events; we were a destination.”

When Stanley retired in 1998, rumors were rampant that the business was going to close.

“He actually startws winding down, stopped ordering supplies and food,” Harry said of his father.

But, Harry wouldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t let his father down.

Days before the business was to close, Harry told his father he had decided to take over.

“I did it for my father. He had put his whole life into it,” he said. “He was a quiet man, but I know he was grateful.”

As a matter of fact, up until in 2016 when Stanley died, Harry referred to the business as his father’s.

“After he retired, he was still here,” he said. “He just wasn’t involved in daily activities.”

From the beginning, the restaurant was a family affair.

“When I was 9, my job was to trim the hotdogs when they came in linked together,” he said.

When he got older, Harry held the midnight to 2:30 a.m. shift on the weekends.

“That’s when a lot of people came in,” he said. “At 11, there would be no one here, then an hour later, everybody.”

Harry Salavantis’ willingness to work hard and love for family continued to the next generation with all his children, including Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, having spent many hours behind the grill and serving customers.

“They did it with a great attitude,” he said. “They learned the value of work.”

Not only was the eatery the basis for Salavantis’ family history, it also impacted the family history of many other area residents.

“Many couples met here after a dance and have been married for years,” he said.

Salavantis is quick to share stories with customers, not only because he loves talking with people, but because the stories themselves provide a bit of history.

“If we don’t tell them now, they will be lost forever,” he said.

One of those stories has to do with the hotdogs’ travels across the country.

“One man comes and takes about 30 of our hotdogs to Las Vegas,” he said. “We wrap them as best we could, but I’m sure the plane smells like onions. Then, when he gets there, he and his friends microwave them. Can you imagine that? Las Vegas with so many different kinds of food to choose from, and they’re eating our hot dogs.”

Salavantis said part of the secret of his success are loyal and trusted employees.

“Many have been here for many years,” he said. “They’re like family.”

Customers, too, have become like family to Salavantis. He still occasionally “flips” hamburgers and, as he does, a small crowd often gathers around him, sharing greetings and memories.

Pete Pezzino is one of those customers and recently took time to share memories with Harry.

At 83, Pezzino was a customer from before the Salavantis family took the reins of the restaurant.

He remembers Stanley with fondness, recalling when the restaurant would fill with young customers late at night.

When asked about his favorite item on the menu, Pezzino paused for a few seconds and then said, “Well, anything.”

Although the restaurant isn’t Salavantis’ primary business, it is an anchor for his family and offers a sense of community.

“I try to do business here in the Pittston area,” he said. “We’re all neighbors.”

Salavantis said the restaurant has added cheesesteaks and gyros to its menus in the last several years, but he doesn’t anticipate much will change as time goes on.

“We simply give our customers what we want,” he said.

Harry Salavantis, owner of Majestic Lunch, poses for a portrait during lunch at his South Main Street restaurant in Pittston.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_PSDMajesticLunch.jpgHarry Salavantis, owner of Majestic Lunch, poses for a portrait during lunch at his South Main Street restaurant in Pittston. Sean McKeag | Sunday Dispatch

The late Stanley Salavantis is shown here at Majestic Lunch in Pittston.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_salavantiss.jpgThe late Stanley Salavantis is shown here at Majestic Lunch in Pittston. Sean McKeag | Sunday Dispatch

A 1954 menu is displayed on the wall of the Majestic Lunch in Pittston.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_Majestic3.jpgA 1954 menu is displayed on the wall of the Majestic Lunch in Pittston. Sean McKeag | Sunday Dispatch

Pete Pezzino, 82, of Pittston, poses for a picture as he has coffee at Majestic Lunch on Pittston’s South Main Street. Pezzino moved to Pittston 41 years ago and was friends with the restaurant’s late owner Stanley Salavantis.
https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_Majestic4.jpgPete Pezzino, 82, of Pittston, poses for a picture as he has coffee at Majestic Lunch on Pittston’s South Main Street. Pezzino moved to Pittston 41 years ago and was friends with the restaurant’s late owner Stanley Salavantis. Sean McKeag | Sunday Dispatch

By Geri Gibbons

For Sunday Dispatch

Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at sd@psdispatch.com.

Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at sd@psdispatch.com.