Greg Skedros, the Greek pharmacist who founded The Mandarin Restaurant and turned it into one of northern Utah’s most popular and longest-running Chinese eateries, has died.
Skedros died Thursday, after recently being admitted to a hospital, his family reported. He was 93.
“He had all these different lives, as a pharmacist, running a neighborhood drugstore for all of those years,” his oldest son, Tykie, said Thursday. “He waited a good 20 years before he went into the restaurant business, and then he continued the pharmacy for another 5, 10 years after opening Mandarin.”
Skedros opened the Mountain View Pharmacy, in a new shopping center at 900 N. 400 East in Bountiful in 1961. (The pharmacy has since moved.) In his first years in the pharmacy, he noticed the industry was changing.
“I noticed that almost every grocery store was going into the drugstore business, and I could see the handwriting on the wall,” Skedros told The Tribune in 2012. “Corner drugstores would not be around much longer, so I looked into something else.”
When a pizzeria in the shopping center closed, he and a friend started making plans to open a Greek-Italian restaurant.
“It was all set and he signed the lease, and then the [other] guy backed out at the last minute,” Tykie Skedros recalled. “So he was left with a restaurant and no cooks. At the time, his accountant knew a Chinese gentleman named Lang Wang, who had a fortune cookie company in Salt Lake, who had been telling him, ‘I’ve got these Chinese friends of mine that are cooks, and they’re looking to start a restaurant.’ So that was how that all started. By chance. I always maintain that was the bravest day of my dad’s life when he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
When he opened The Mandarin in 1977, Skedros said in 2012, he talked to Max Mercier, who for years ran a popular French restaurant in Salt Lake City. Mercier, Skedros said, gave him this advice: “Know your sauces. Whatever you do, learn the sauces. Guys will come and go, but you always will have the sauces, so nothing will ever change.”
The Mandarin’s consistency and service — along with flavors of favorite dishes, such as the sliced beef with green beans, five-taste shrimp and Dan Dan noodles — made it a favorite spot for birthdays, anniversaries, or just dinner with friends.
“The bulk of his career was spent as a restaurateur, with an iconic restaurant that has become kind of a cult restaurant in Utah,” Tykie Skedros said. “People come from throughout the whole valley, because they knew Greg Skedros was going to be there every day.”
Even after Skedros opened the restaurant, he continued to work during the day in his pharmacy. When his shift was done, he would join Jenny at the restaurant, sometimes staying until 2 a.m. to clean and prepare for the next day.
Over the years, all the Skedros children — and now some of their grandchildren — have taken turns as cooks and servers.
After Jenny died in 2007, Skedros’ youngest daughter, Angel Manfredini and her husband, Paul, took over day-to-day operation of the restaurant. But Greg Skedros continued to visit to greet customers. “Even as a 93-year-old man, three weeks ago, with his walker, he was going around greeting people,” Tykie Skedros said.
Gregory Skedros was born July 30, 1928, in Salt Lake City to immigrant Greek parents, who taught him early in life about the value of hard work.
When Skedros was 12, his father died, leaving his mother — who had graduated from college in Greece — to support Greg and his older brother Constantine by giving private tutoring lessons. Greg Skedros pitched in by working in his uncle’s drug store, washing windows and cleaning floors.
Skedros graduated from East High School in 1945. He attended the University of Utah; according to the U., he was a graduate of the first Air Force ROTC class in 1949, and in 1950 was part of the first graduating class of the U.’s College of Pharmacy.
He worked in a Salt Lake City pharmacy for about 18 months before being called into the U.S. Air Force. He served for two years during the Korean War, mostly in the Philippines. Upon his return, Skedros worked as a hospital pharmacist at Hill Air Force Base.
In 1957, he married Jenny Pappas, and they had five children together: Tykie (Demetrios), John, Katina, Anthony and Angel.
Greg Skedros was an active member of Salt Lake City’s Greek Orthodox community. He and Jenny served as the chairs of the first Greek Festival in 1977.
When their son Anthony died in 1997, of an undetected heart condition at the age of 32, the family devoted many hours to charity and raising funds in their son’s memory.
They established the Anthony Skedros Charitable Memorial Foundation that paid for annual scholarships for exemplary athletes at Viewmont High School, the University of Utah (where Anthony was a member of the track team), and Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where Anthony trained as an emergency room physician.
The bulk of the funds the Skedros family has raised will be used to help fund a new campus at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Salt Lake City.
Memorial services have not been announced.