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Uncle Petes gives a dash of Greek hospitality
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Photo: John Greenwood
Uncle Petes owners Kathryn Panouses and her son, Chris, stand in front of the popular Greek eatery on Avenue of the Cities, across from Moline High School.
Chris Panouses shakes the hand of the the man leaving Uncle Petes, his Moline restaurant.

Seconds later, he slides across the floor to make sure he greets — and thanks — three other takeout customers leaving Uncle Petes.

Each time Mr. Panouses turns to thank a customer, he sees a photo of his late father, Pete Panouses, the man who started Uncle Petes. It's a reminder about how to treat the customer.

"He, like my mother, was the perfect example of how a business owner should treat his customers," Mr. Panouses, 55, said of his father, who passed away six years ago. "The Greek tradition of hard work and treating people with respect was never lost on my dad and my mother. They understood hard work will get you places, but caring about others will keep you there."

The Uncle Petes legacy began in 1969. After two decades with Iowa-Illinois Gas & Electric, Pete Panouses started J&D Steakhouse in downtown Moline.

Five years later, he opened Western Steak House on Moline's 16th Street. In the early 1970s, the family opened the East Moline-based Mr. Quick sandwich shop.

"It was seven days a week for him and my mom," Mr. Panouses said of his parents during those early days of the restaurant business. "They took time out for church and a few things, but it was hard work."

In 1982, SouthPark Mall was the place to be, and the Panouses family — Pete, Kathryn, Bill and Chris — opened Uncle Petes. They featured the gyro, a sliced lamb pita-wrapped sandwich, as their signature item.

And lots of good conversation.

"The rent was expensive, and we were really in a cubbyhole spot, but business was really good," Mr. Panouses said. "It was good because my mom and dad worked hard and loved their customers."

There would be two more moves for Uncle Petes, both on Moline's Avenue of the Cities. One was to 42nd Street and another to its current location at 36th Street and Avenue of the Cities. Uncle Petes has become a Q-C staple.

"My mother was born in Greece, and her family saw things better here in America," Mr. Panouses said. "My dad was born here, but his family before him saw the same thing, a chance at an opportunity in America. I believe through hard work they took advantage of a great opportunity."

Mr. Panouses said there is another reason his parents paved a successful path for the family business.

"My father was, and my mother still is, the nicest people on earth," Mr. Panouses said. "My dad was a great listener. He knew there is a story behind everyone and wanted to hear each and every story.

"People came to talk as much as they came to eat with my dad. He, and my mother, who is and has always been the boss, loved talking to people. They knew how to say thank you, and they worried what you thought."

It's what the customer thinks that drives Mr. Panouses to work six days a week, 12 hours a day. He said his employees — many with Uncle Petes as many as 15 years — believe the same.

"If there is a mistake made it tears us up," Mr. Panouses said. "We are appreciative of everyone who comes through. I have a great staff, the best you can have, and they believe in what my parents believed when it comes to the customer.

"It's OK to respect the people that pay the bills and keep the lights on. It's OK to talk to them and make sure they know how much we want them to be happy. It's OK to be like Pete and Kathryn."

Greece
-- Location:Southern Europe, bordering the Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea, between Albania and Turkey.

-- Population:10,767,827 (July 2012 estimate). No. 78 in the world.

-- Languages:Greek (official), 99 percent; other (includes English and French), 1 percent.

Source: CIA World Factbook.



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(More History)