By Bob Uphues
Anthony "Tony" Garbis, who in 1981 transformed a shuttered Jewel food store in downtown Riverside into the independently owned institution known as Riverside Foods, died peacefully on Dec. 4, 2019, at the age of 80.
Born on Oct. 9, 1939, Mr. Garbis was, according to his daughter Stephanie Waghorn, "truly poor" while growing up on the island of Kefalonia off the west coast of Greece. His family endured a world war, a civil war and then the devastating Ionian earthquake, which laid waste to the island in 1953.
Mr. Garbis was 18 years old when he immigrated with his family to the United States in 1958. His first job in Chicago, according to his son, Jerry "Mike" Garbis, was at the National Cafeteria, a diner on Van Buren Street in the Loop. A few years later, with money he'd saved up plus a small loan, Mr. Garbis bought his first grocery business at Lake Street and Central Avenue in Chicago.
In the early 1970s, he moved farther west, buying the Oak Park Food Mart on Oak Park Avenue just south of the Lake Street el. He later owned a store in Woodridge and one called A&G Foods at the corner of Oak Park and Ogden avenues in Berwyn when Jewel decided to vacate its longtime Riverside location in 1980.
Mike Garbis said his father, who opened Riverside Foods in partnership with brother-in-law John Vlahos, saw promise in the East Burlington Street location.
"It was a neighborhood store, and he liked the size," Mike said. "It was also a chance to start from scratch and build it his way."
Faced with a real estate environment where steep interest rates made it difficult for small businessmen to obtain funding for new ventures, Mr. Garbis went to the village of Riverside to see what could be done.
"The powers that be helped him get a reasonable loan," said Mike Garbis. "They really wanted the store there."
After five or six years, Mr. Garbis bought out his brother-in-law, and in 1995 Mr. Garbis sold his shares to his son, Mike. Mr. Garbis' daughter, Stephanie Waghorn, would come aboard as a full-time co-owner in 2001.
Later, Waghorn stepped away from the business and her son, Peter Boutsikakis, would assume co-ownership alongside his Uncle Mike.
Although officially retired, Mr. Garbis remained a presence at Riverside Foods.
"He was there every day when he was in town," said Mike Garbis. "You just could not keep him away. He was brokenhearted, after he got sick, when he couldn't go to the store."
The store's staff and customers became a second family to Mr. Garbis, according to Waghorn. Having worked as a butcher for many years, he took particular pride in the back-of-the-house operations and was especially fond of the deli and meat departments.
"It was his pride and joy," Mike Garbis said. "He loved to teach people what he'd learned. He was a mentor to everyone."
While Mr. Garbis lived in Hinsdale, a lifelong goal of his, said Mike Garbis, was to own a residence on the island he called home as a child. He bought the property in 1995 and obtained plans to his Hinsdale home, which he reproduced on Kefalonia.
"It was everything to him," said Mike Garbis of the fulfillment of his father's dream to one day return to Kefalonia in retirement. "His father is buried in the town. His roots are there. He'd spend Easter with us and then go there until Thanksgiving every year."
Mike Garbis called his father "one of the greatest providers ever, and he never asked for a pat on the back for anything."
The successful business not only allowed Mr. Garbis to provide for and educate his four children, said Waghorn, it represented a remarkable personal achievement.
"He came here without anything and succeeded," Waghorn said. "That was a very strong personal accomplishment for him. He was very proud of that."
Mr. Garbis was the husband of Antionette Garbis (nee Vlahos); the father of Stephanie (Michael) Waghorn, Jerry "Mike" (Tami Davis) Garbis, Janie Garbis and Christina (Jimmy) Bibizas; the grandfather of Peter, Anthony, Alexander, Anthony, Holly, Pauline, Antonia, Beatrice, Dimitri, Veronica and Jack; the great-grandfather of Sloane and Theodore; and the brother of Ted, Kathy, Louis and the late Dina, Denny and Bill.
A funeral service was held Dec. 7 at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago, followed by interment at Ridgewood Cemetery in Des Plaines.
Sullivan Funeral Home, Hinsdale, handled arrangements.