John Doganges Christo and Martha Williams Christo
Nicholas Doganges, father of John Christo and Helen Dezes
Garifalia Pavleros Doganzes Christo, Mother of John, Helen, Betty, Stella, and Nick
Thomas “Tom” Christo, stepfather of John and Helen; father of Betty, Stella, and Nick
William and Mary Pavleros, John Christo’s uncle and aunt; Garifalia’s brother and sister-in-law
George and Helen Dezes
Included in the Christo story are the following:
The Helen and George Dezes Family Story by their son, Alex Dezes
A letter from Joseph Alton, 2003, remembering John Christo
A letter of sympathy from Governor Donald Schaefer (governor 1987-1995)
Far Right: Nick Doganges and standing behind table, Gregory Doganges (brothers)
Shop: Doganges Florist and Fruiterer
1920s New York City
Nicholas Doganges (1877 -1927) of Paleopanagia and Garifalia Pavleros (1901 – 1982) of Xirokambi, villages south of Sparta in the Peloponnese, married in 1920 in Xirokambi. Nick, at the time of his marriage, was already an established owner with his brothers of a high-end Florist and Fruiterer shop in New York City, which they opened in the early 1900s. Their two children were born in New York City, Helen on January 10, 1924, and John on March 11, 1925. When the children were young, John two years of age and Helen three, Nick, died in New York City in 1927. Garifalia Doganzes, newly widowed, decided she should return to her village in Greece but her brother, William “Bill” Pavleros, invited his sister and her children to Thief River Falls, Minnesota where he was living at the time. They moved and settled there for two years.
William “Bill” Pavleros was born March 5, 1898, in Sparta. Bill first arrived in the United States in 1908 with his father and they lived in Knox, Indiana. Later (no exact date) he moved to Minnesota. In 1929 he, Garifalia and the children relocated in Brooklyn Park, Maryland. Bill opened a restaurant on Patapsco Avenue in Brooklyn Park called the Midway. It was there that Garifalia met and married Thomas “Tom” Christo in 1929. Helen was now eight and John five years old. Tom Christo was from Sparta, born October 29, 1890. He was 39 years old and Garifalia was 29 years old when they married in Baltimore.
1929: wedding of Garifalia and Tom Christo
L to R: Bill Pavleros, best man, John Christo, Garifalia Christo, Tom Christo, Helen Dezes
Brooklyn Park turned out to be a rough area to raise children, and in 1932 Garifalia sent seven-year-old John to Greece with her brother Bill who took him to the family village, Xirokambi. Bill learned soon after their arrival that he had to serve in the Greek military, which was compulsory for all Greek men (up to a certain age); therefore, he immediately returned to the United States to avoid conscription and left John with the relatives in Greece. John barely spoke Greek; he missed his mother and sister, and he did not have fond memories of his time in the village. During his three years in Greece, he learned to speak Greek and was an honor student at school. In November 1935, at the age of ten, he returned to Brooklyn Park reuniting with his family and new siblings. He had to relearn English for his grade level.
Garifalia and Tom Christo moved to Annapolis in 1938 when John was thirteen. The family grew as Garifalia and Tom had three children, Betty (1930), Stella (1933), and Nick (1936). Tom owned a restaurant, Tom’s Place later know as Tom’s Grill, and later known as The New Grill, located at 105 Main Street. Bill Pavleros was also involved in the business. Tom ran the business until he died on November 3, 1943. Thomas Christo had a burial with military honors for his service in World War I at the National Cemetery in Annapolis. John genuinely loved his stepfather who was a good husband to Garifalia, and wonderful father to the children. The census of 1940 included Thomas, head of household, 52, no education listed, Rose (Garifalia), 39, elementary school education, Helen, 16, John, 15, Betty, 10, Stella, 7, and Nick, three. Per the census report, Annapolis had a population of 13,069 and was the eighth largest city in Maryland.
Helen, John, Betty, Stella, and Nick grew up in Annapolis at 173 Green Street and attended local schools.
Tom’s Place Restaurant later known as The New Grill, Bill Pavleros and Helen Dezes (both photos feature Helen)
The Christo and Pavleros families were involved with building the church in Annapolis, and Bill and Mary Pavleros were the first couple to be married at the church’s first location, which was on Constitution Avenue, on April 21, 1950. Bill served on the Church board and Mary was an advisor to the Ayia Anna Philoptochos Society. According to the 1959 Annapolis City Directory, Bill was the owner of the S&S Restaurant, Bar, and Hotel outer West St.
Mary and Bill Pavleros
John’s friends growing up included Nick Fotos, whose father, James “Jim” Fotos co-owned Brunswick Billiards on Main St. with his first cousin, George Pappas; and Harry and Joe Maggio, whose parents owned LaRosa Restaurant next door to the New Grill. Nick graduated from Annapolis High School in 1941 and John in 1942. In 1942 he and John enlisted in the Army Air Corp. Nick served in Italy as a tail gunner on the B-17 “Flying Fortresses,” and John was sent to the Pacific Theater as a bombardier on the B-29 “Superfortress”. The B-29 was the most capable bombing fortress at the time. John received medals for his service. Part of being on a bomber over Japan meant having to bring down the Japanese Kamikaze suicide pilots whose sole mission was to take down the bombers. John was never a fan of airplanes after the war.
After the war, John matriculated at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. He completed two years. In 1947, he baptized his first godchild, Nick Samaras. In 1949, John was the best man at the wedding of Nick and Christine Fotos and in 1954, he baptized their first born, Alexandra.
After Kent State, John returned to Annapolis and he purchased the New Grill from his uncle, Bill Pavleros. Later John sold the New Grill and in the 1950s leased a restaurant for a brief period called The Hitching Post on Prince George St. from Admiral Cochran. During that time, he also sold insurance. After The Hitching Post, still in the 1950s, John helped his sister, Helen, and brother-in-law, George Dezes, at their restaurant, The Waterloo, in Elkridge, Md. He tended bar among other duties.
In the late 1950s, John wanted to purchase a hamburger/milkshake place in Parole owned by Don and Nancy Parr. But the Parr’s decided to lease it to Joe Greenfield, a slot machine operator. Fred Tomanio worked for Mr. Greenfield as the manager, yet it was John who did all the work managing the restaurant. Carrol Dunton, an investor, bought the business from the Parrs. John became more involved and, in three years, received the option to buy the business from Carrol Dunton and under John Christo, Fred’s Restaurant opened in 1960. After 42 successful years, Martha Christo sold it in 2002.
Martha Christo nee Martha Williams was born in Annapolis June 8, 1931, child number three of twelve to James Shepherd Williams and Lillian Edith Williams. Her parents married in 1925 and grew up in Annapolis’ Hells Point. They raised their children in Eastport, West Street near Southgate Ave, Spa Road, and finally settled in Harness Creek near the South River. Martha’s family went back generations in the Annapolis area. Her father, James, worked at the United States Naval Academy for 42 years. He was the supervisor of the cobbler shop for the midshipmen and received citations for his excellent work. Martha’s mother’s father, John Jacobs, was a Keystone Cop in Annapolis! The family came from an extensive lineage of Irish Catholics.
Growing up in Annapolis, Martha’s friends included children of Greek immigrants. She attended local schools and in 1948 graduated from Annapolis High School. One of her classmates and good friend is Eva Arhos (nee Alvanos). Other classmates included Stella Christo, Joyce Charaklis, Helen Leanos, and Katherine Bounelis. After high school, Martha worked for Labovitz on Main St, a high-end woman’s clothing store, where dress prices were upwards of $500.00!
John and Martha met in 1951 through Ernie and Lillian Tomanio of the Red Coach Restaurant, located on King George Street near Carvel Hall (The William Paca House and Garden). They married on December 9, 1962, a quiet wedding at a Methodist Church in Ellicott City, and again married at Sts. Constantine and Helen in 1972.
John’s sister, Helen, married George Dezes of Baltimore on December 7, 1947, at the Church of the Annunciation in Baltimore. George was the son of Alexander Leonidas Dezes and Helen Doganges Pavleros Dezes; he was born on May 9, 1918, in Baltimore. They had four sons: Alex (1950), Basil (1957), and twins Nick and George (1959). The Dezes Story, by Alex Dezes, follows this story.
Fred’s Restaurant in the 1960s transformed from a hamburger place with slot machines to an exquisite dining experience that featured tiffany lamps, oil paintings, sculpture, antiques, stained glass windows, and upholstered furniture. They remodeled the restaurant in 1968 with Helen being the interior decorator. The menu featured seafood, steaks, and Italian cuisine. The food was excellent because John Christo and George Dezes collaborated on the recipes.
Eating at Fred’s was an experience like no other in the area and it became one of the most popular and loved restaurants in Annapolis.
Martha from the beginning of Fred’s worked long hours with John to help make Fred’s a success. Family members helped, too. Stella managed the front of the house with scheduling and hosting. “Mama” Christo was at the cash register. Helen was the interior decorator, and George used his culinary skills in the kitchen. Yet, it was Martha who ensured the restaurant operated smoothly from the kitchen to the dining room. She knew her customers by name and even their favorite menu items. Fred’s became an institution until it closed in 2002.
In 1979 John purchased The Oak Grove Restaurant on Route 2 on the South River, which is the current location of the Yellow Fin Restaurant. The Oak Grove location included a beach which was popular with locals. Sydney French, Nick Pantelides, and John Kallis originally owned the property, and later Mr. French bought out his two partners. John in 1976 signed a three-year agreement with Sydney French based on the option to buy the property. John invited his sisters, Helen Dezes and Stella Donovan, to work together at this new restaurant. Helen decorated it to resemble a Spanish Galleon, which gave it the name, The Galleon, with windows overlooking the river. Stella managed the front part of the restaurant, and George Dezes the kitchen. One of his specialties was bone-in Prime Rib. The restaurant had a short life and closed in 1984. The property sold in 1998 to its current owners.
After the Galleon, John located a restaurant, Old Cove Inn, on Kent Island on the Eastern Shore, thanks to John Kalivetrinos, a friend from Washington, DC. George and Helen took over the restaurant and called it the Dezes Old Cove Inn. It featured art, antiques, a piano bar, and the Red Room with booths that you could close red velvet curtains around the tables and excellent food.
Garifalia died on September 5, 1982. She was known as “Mom Christo” and was an extraordinarily strong woman, who gave so much to the Greek Annapolis community and church. Garifalia enjoyed working, especially at Fred’s Restaurant. She loved people and worked hard. And people loved her back. She had the most charismatic smile and greeted everyone as though they were family. She also helped care for her adult daughter, Betty, and Stella’s two children, Patrice “Baba” and John Donovan when they were young. (Baba passed away in 2020). Betty needed care because as a young child she contacted Scarlett fever and as a result suffered from epilepsy and brain damage.
Garifalia and Betty Christo
Years after Fred’s closed and Facebook had become immensely popular, friends, customers, and employees recounted their stories of Fred’s on the Facebook page “Friends of Annapolis.” To no one’s surprise, all on the FB page agreed that the best crab cakes were at Fred’s. Ironically, Martha upon reflection, shared that when they first opened, locals did not buy crab cakes as crabbing was a popular local pastime. John nearly had to give them away to get people to taste them and he had a waiter go around the restaurant with a large platter, the “Antipasto Supreme,” filled with salami, cheeses, shrimp, and crab balls. The rest is history. Fred’s became famously known for their crab cakes in addition to their fine seafood, Italian dishes and of course the Antipasto Supreme.
An area that John was extremely interested in was politics. He supported politicians and those striving to be politicians at all levels of government. One of his closest friends was the county’s first County Executive, Joe Alton. Joe’s cousin, Roger “Pip” Moyer, a mayor in Annapolis in the late sixties, was also a regular at Fred’s. Pip and John knew each other from the New Grill days and were good friends. Coaches from the USNA gathered at Fred’s for fine dining and conversation. Well-known politicians frequented Fred’s from mayors to senators and governors. It was the place to be!
On March 20, 1974, Bill Pavleros died in an automobile accident during a snowstorm suffering for three months in a coma. Bill’s wife, Mary Pavleros (born July 4, 1906), died on September 21, 1988. Bill, Mary, and Garifalia were in the first group of immigrants here in Annapolis who helped set the foundation for Sts. Constantine and Helen and for the Greek community through their generosity and service on the Parish Council and Philoptochos.
Stella Donovan died in 1986 in an automobile accident on the Eastern Shore. Betty died in 1995 and Nick died in 2009. George Dezes died on May 7, 1986. Helen Dezes later married August Conomos of Towson, MD. She died August 5, 2003.
John’s sister Betty lived with their mother until Garifalia passed away. John and Martha found an excellent place for her to live where she received excellent and loving care. Betty was a gentle soul who greeted friends with her smiles and loved her Greek church and the people. And she loved to embroider.
Nick, the youngest of the Christo siblings, despite his challenges throughout life was a happy-go-lucky person who worked as a taxi driver, enjoyed flea markets (buying and selling), and loved animals.
John died on February 2, 1994, from an automobile accident in Baltimore a bit more than a month shy of 69th birthday. He was born March 11, 1925. The Greek community, family, Fred’s restaurant staff and customers, and friends mourned his tragic death. John Christo was pivotal in so many people’s lives. He was an excellent listener, highly intelligent, had a great smile, and phenomenal sense of humor. John cared deeply about his family and friends. But more than anything in the world, he loved Martha. She was his muse, his love, his best friend, and his confidante.
Joe Alton wrote about John in 2003, which he sent to Martha, it is a beautiful piece about John and Martha. His letter follows this story.
John and Martha Christo contributed generously to the Church and its organizations such as Junior Goya, Sunday School, Greek School, the Church Board, and Philoptochos through the years. They supported either by a gift or by food. Martha and John built a legacy in their generosity and love for Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church of Annapolis. In addition, they were good stewards of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County communities through their charitable acts to local organizations.
The Christo Story was compiled thanks to Martha Christo for her memories, facts, photographs, and most important—her love for John. Alexandra Fotos had the privilege of authoring this story with her Nouna, Martha Christo.
John Pantelides invited Nick Dezes, son of Helen and George Dezes, to share comments about his Uncle John and Aunt Marge:
They were such benevolent people—John and Marge. They enjoyed the act of giving. The favor was more to them then the ones receiving. We kids were recruited to jump in for many of the causes and did as we were told. In the end, we felt the joy of it also. Thank you again for asking me to write about my Uncle John and Aunt Marge, but not because he was my uncle, but to state that there was no more beautiful man than him. I listened to his advice. Aunt Marge—Amazing! It was she that really did everything for everyone. Through her, Uncle John was able to share his beautiful ways with all. They had the greatest love affair, which brought out the best in them. I have a letter framed that was written by Joe Alton in honor of John Christo, which Aunt Marge gave to me for my keeping. It is beautifully written and sums up how wonderful he was. Thank you again for asking me to write.
Nick Dezes 2021
From Ralph Crosby’s “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy: Growing up in America’s Ancient City” published June 15, 2016:
Main Street restaurants became my generation’s personal havens over the years. As a teenager, I played chess with the young proprietor, Johnny Christo, in a tiny eatery called the New Grill at the bottom of Main Street, just up from Green Street. Johnny went on to open the popular Fred’s Restaurant in Parole. (But that, too, is gone.) However, the New Grill’s location now houses Sakura Café. I doubt that they have a chess board.