From an early age, Nick Katsanevas learned the importance of working hard, whether shining shoes or serving pastrami burgers.
But the co-founder of the popular Utah Crown Burger restaurants also knew how to hand out service with a smile.
Affectionately known by many as “Uncle Nick,” Katsanevas made an effort to please each of his customers, welcoming many by name and treating children to ice cream cones whenever he had a moment to spare.
“You walked in as a stranger and you walked out as family when he was done with you,” son Michael Katsanevas, said of his father, who died in his sleep June 29. He was 71.
Katsanevas, who was born May 25, 1941, emigrated from Greece to Salt Lake City when he was 13. He worked doing odd jobs to help support his family.
A sister, Kaliope Sargetakis, said those early years were marked by demanding tasks for all her siblings when they arrived in Utah.
Michael Katsanevas said his father personified the ethic of doing a full day’s work.
“The work week that we all know of 40 hours was like part time for him,” his son said. “His week was more like 80 or 90 hours.”
Bill Gillman, a friend of the elder Katsanevas, joked Thursday about his ability to work so many hours at a time.
“If most of us were set up to run on a single A cell, Nick ran on a nine-volt battery,” Gillman said.
Described by peers and friends as hard-nosed but fair, Katsanevas was always one to drive a hard bargain.
In making deals with food suppliers, Katsanevas did extensive research on pricing and would accept nothing more than the lowest price. “He cut ’em at the legs,” his son said.
Jason Innes of Nicholas & Co. food distributors worked with Katsanevas for 15 years.
“He was a tough cat to deal with,” Innes said. “He was always fair, but he’d drive a hard bargain.”
In his few hours outside the restaurant, Katsanevas enjoyed gambling, often at casinos in Wendover, Nev. “[While] some men would invest in golf clubs, he liked to gamble,” his son said.
Services were held earlier this week, and in lieu of flowers, the family asked that friends and others place a “hefty bet” on their favorite sports team.
Another of Katsanevas’ pleasures, aside from the satisfaction of getting a customer to smile, was Crown Royal whiskey.
Gillman said before Katsanevas passed away, the two had spoken about the funeral plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery, where Katsanevas would be buried.
“When you die, I will leave some pastrami meat on your grave every now and then,” Gillman told his friend.
Katsanevas looked at Gillman and replied, “I’d rather you sprinkle a little Crown Royal.”
Katsanevas is survived by his wife, Mary; son, Michael; daughter, Alexandria; siblings George, Louie, Manuel, Steve, Kaliope Sargetakis, Irene Kases, Rita Klonizos and Rula Katzourakis; grandson, Nicholas; and many nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, James.
NICK KATSANEVAS • 1941-2012