Most people know our family from The Little Campus Restaurant which was a home away from home for many Annapolitans for decades. Our grandparents, Theo (or Teddy) and Anna Nichols, opened the restaurant in 1924. Located on Maryland Avenue, one little college campus, St. John’s College was two blocks away, as was a slightly bigger, little campus, the Naval Academy. Hence the name.
Roughly a year after they opened the restaurant, Anna gave birth to their first son, George Nichols. In 1932, Evangelos (Angy to everyone who knew him) was born.
Like most immigrants to this country, Theo and Anna came to work hard to build a better life for their children. Anna (born Halakos) arrived in the US at age 6 or 7 with her mother, Aphrodite. An only child, her father, a member of the greek cavalry according to her, had died before she knew him. She and her mother moved to be with her uncle, her mother’s brother, in Lowell MA where there was a very large and diverse immigrant community drawn to the area for factory work. She went to school through 3rd or 4th grade and then was told that was enough. Not long after, she too went to work in a fabric mill in Lowell, along with many young immigrant girls from all over Europe. There would have been many different languages heard on the factory floors in those days of the early 1900s. This experience impacted her greatly; she would have loved more schooling and so read a lot on her own. She remained an avid reader till she died at age 92. She used to say that your brain was like the rest of your body and needed to be exercised every day.
Theo Nichols came to the US from Sparta. He arrived as a young teenager, leaving behind his parents. He would never see his mother again. He told the story of working for an employer who had him do deliveries, and would give young Theo a nickel for the trolley to make the rounds. Theo would pocket the nickel and run to make his deliveries!
The two met while Anna was working in a candy shop on the New Jersey shore. She would tell the story that Theo came into the shop one day with two of his friends. She told her workmates, you can have the other two, but that one is mine! They wrote lots of love letters back and forth to one another before they married.
They settled in Annapolis and took over an existing restaurant on MD Avenue in 1924. In 1948, with the money they had made in their business, Theo and Anna, along with Theo’s sister, Eleftheria and her husband John Lewnes, were able to buy the building for $20,000, a tidy sum in those days no doubt, and quite an accomplishment for these four people who had come to this country with nothing to their names, no education and not speaking the language. Anna’s mother, Aphrodite, stayed with the family till her death. She never mastered English, but there was a big enough Greek speaking community in Annapolis at the time that she was able to live comfortably here.
Also in 1948, George Nichols married the former Georgia Mandris. George was an army veteran of WWII, having fought in the Battle of Panama. In 1949 their first daughter, Ann was born. In 1953, their second daughter, Eleni was born. Of course after his time in the service, George was expected to come home and work at the restaurant. When Georgia married into the Nichols family, she did the same. When the girls were old enough, they helped as cashiers and hostesses. Anyone who has been in a restaurant family knows that everyone helps!
Angy Nichols attended the University of Maryland after graduating from Annapolis High School in 1950. Our country was fighting the Korean War at the time, and 18 year old Angy badly wanted to put off college to go fight. His father Theo calmly asked him to go to college for one year, and see if he still felt the same. The subtle ploy of a worried father worked, and Angy finished college before enlisting in the Air Force, the Korean War behind us.
Angy came back to Annapolis after serving overseas for several years and also joined the family business. He met and started dating Mary Ellen Hopkins in 1959, a decidedly not Greek young lady. It is hard to imagine now that anyone cared so much about these things but family and friends were very much against the relationship. Angy and Mary Ellen would go on to date for 6 years before they got married, waiting patiently till everyone realized they were serious about being together and were not to be deterred!
Angy and Mary Ellen’s first child, Niki, was born in 1966 and son, Ted, named for his Papou, was born in 1968. Everyone in the family worked in the restaurant when they were old enough to help out.
Theo and George both passed away the summer of 1978. Georgia retired from the restaurant business after George’s death. Anna continued to live downtown and walk daily to help out, share recipes and just be a presence till she was 90 years old. Angy and Mary Ellen would go on to run the restaurant together till her death in 1994 and then Angy finally sold it in 1998 to a group of Irish born restaurateurs who also wanted to bring their culture and their food to Annapolis. The torch was passed to another group of immigrants.