George Bilidas, 86, of Oakton, who co-founded the Amphora Restaurant chain that provides one of the few places in Vienna where people can grab a meal and cup of joe 24 hours per day, died Nov. 12 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. His family attributed the death to natural causes.
Born in Greece on July 15, 1930, Bilidas was 21 and living in the village of Magoula outside of Sparta when he decided to come to the United States. He worked to support his family and pay for his three sisters’ dowries, then brought the family to America.
Bilidas and his brother-in-law, Louis Cholakis, came to Vienna in 1962 and operated Rolling Road Restaurant in Vienna and the Lake Anne Inn in Reston. In 1977, they acted on their belief that a New York-style diner, open round the clock, would be a smash hit in Vienna, said his son, Steve Bilidas.
Thus began the Amphora Restaurant chain, which later grew to include Amphora Diner and Bakery in Herndon and Amphora Catering. The restaurants’ menus feature a dizzying array of about 250 choices.
“It was good old home cooking that anyone could get any time of day. Even today, we’ve never closed,” his son said. “They don’t believe in anything frozen or processed. Everything is done from scratch.”
Bill Murray, a retired Vienna police officer, said Amphora Restaurant nourished the town’s police force during overnight shifts. The restaurant also remains a favorite with Virginia State Police troopers and Fairfax County police officers, he said.
“George always tried to show his appreciation by discounting meals for us or simply wadding up the check,” he said. “He loved expressing gratitude in that manner and kind of thought of us as his own.”
Murray added, “George was a kindhearted man and was a big part of Vienna’s fabulous history. Not only were we [officers] customers, but we helped him deal with the occasional late-night reveler that may have had a few too many, developed an appetite, then became a problem. George’s legacy will live on through his contributions to town. He is a gentleman I will never forget.”
The restaurants’ employees also have similar feelings of loyalty, Steve Bilidas said.
“We have about 250 employees, about 80 percent of whom have been with us for 20 to 25 years,” he said. “Some of the people there are ones our parents hired.”
Steve Bilidas said his father was a relaxed people person who would visit fellow restaurant owners in Vienna when things were slow at Amphora.
George Bilidas also inculcated a strong work ethic in his son by having him wash dishes at the restaurant and subsequently bus tables and seat customers.
“Work hard and be nice to everyone. That was basically his philosophy,” his son said.
Bilidas was “an extraordinary gentleman who came here without a penny to him,” said George Cholakis, a partner in the Amphora chain. “He was a very charismatic, personable man who knew everybody.”
Bilidas retired from Amphora in 1993, but frequently stopped by the restaurant to drink coffee and chat with longtime customers, his son said.
Bilidas returned often to his home country of Greece and also was fond of visiting the Dominican Republic. He also stayed fit by walking at Tysons Corner Center.
His charitable efforts included supporting St. Katherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in Falls Church, which he helped found in 1966, and a special-needs center in his Greek home village of Magoula. As a member of Leadership 100, he advocated for the advancement of Hellenism and orthodoxy in America, his family said.
Bilidas is survived by his wife of 60 years, Bess Bilidas of Oakton; son Steve Bilidas and daughter-in-law Denise Bilidas; a sister, Eugenia; six grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
The family celebrated Bilidas’ life Nov. 20 at Money & King Funeral Home in Vienna and funeral services were set for Nov. 21 at St. Katherine’s Greek Orthodox Church. In lieu of flowers, family members ask that donations be made to that church.
Bilidas was to be buried Nov. 21 at National Memorial Park in the Falls Church area.