Business scion builds on iconic legacy
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- His father was Spyros Stanley, Charleston's iconic parking lot king, an uneducated Greek immigrant who developed a miniature business empire.
Deno Stanley had a lot to live up to. But he's filling those formidable shoes just fine, thank you.
First off, he owns two restaurants, a new one at Boulevard Towers and the Adelphia Bar and Grille on Capitol Street. He owns Village Auto on Elizabeth Street and oversees the many businesses and properties left by his dad.
For years, he made a good living as a respected studio drummer. He's a self-taught mechanic, a cook, a builder and a former video producer.
He's personable, energetic and dynamic -- a visionary fueled by the strong work ethic inherited from his dad.
In many ways, he is very much his father's son. But at 49, he has created a civic identity all his own.
(P.S. George Stephanopoulos is his first cousin. How's that for a conversation starter?)
"My grandfather came to America in 1907. Back then, if you hit Ellis Island, you were a citizen, naturalized.
"Stenlis was the name they gave my grandfather when he touched down in America. Our real Greek name is Stelianoudakis.
"He worked through New York and the steel mills and the coal mines. In the early 1920s, he went back to Greece, found a wife, got her pregnant and came back to America. My dad was born in 1929.
"He grew up in war-torn Greece. Crete, the island he's from, was occupied by the Germans. My dad used to shine the German officers' boots.
"As boys got older, the Germans shot them because they were old enough to fight back. So my dad went to live with his aunts in Athens.
"My grandmother came to America to be with her husband in the early '30s. When my dad was 17, my grandfather sent him a letter: 'You are a man now. Go to the embassy and come to America.' My dad writes back that they won't let him in. My grandfather says, 'Tell them your dad is a U.S. citizen.' Four hundred people waiting in line, and bam, he's at the front.
"So Spyros gets to Charleston. Within a year, he's drafted into the Korean War. In Minnesota for basic training, he goes to the Greek church and says, 'Any good Greek girls here?' He meets my mother.
"They got married. He did his stint in Korea and was stationed in Germany as a truck driver from '51 to '52.
"My grandparents had this diner at the end of Summers Street. My dad got into that business. He bought the Busy Bee Cafe. Then it was place after place. On the other side of the dinette were some open parking spaces. Montgomery Ward managers wanted to park there, and lo and behold, he's in the parking business.
"We all lived in the house attached to the restaurant. Downtown Charleston was my playground. I had free rein. I would go to the Kearse and watch movies for 50 cents. The bus station had an arcade.
"I grew up playing drums, Greek music, in the church. I started when I was 7 or 8. By the time I was 12, I could play odd and intricate time signatures of Greek music. I didn't know they were supposed to be difficult.
"Music carried me on through marching bands in school. I graduated from Charleston High in 1981.
"On my 18th birthday, my dad opened the Fan Club on Summers Street. I came to work at the parking lot, and my dad says, 'You are 18 today, so you are the bartender.' He gave me the drill, how we cook our burgers and Greek sandwiches. I used to make the best grilled cheese sandwiches for all the girls on the street.
"It was like dog years on Summers Street then. One year was like seven. I grew up very fast to the ways of the street in the two years I worked there.
"I wanted to go to college. I'm glad I didn't go right away, because I got street smart. I learned to read people. That helps me to this day. I went to college and got to be book smart. I majored in communications at Ohio University.
"I started out in studio recording. My dad was thrilled because he was a musician. He played a wicked harmonica.
"In the Fan Club, my brother, Louie, me and my dad were the band. Louie was a fantastic keyboard player in a famous band around Charleston, Ebony and the Greek.
"When MTV came out, I switched from recording to video production. I also got into music groups there. I was going to school and traveling and playing music -- a drummer for hire. I played with groups when the drummer couldn't make it. I could slide in and learn very quickly.
"After I graduated, I moved to Columbus and worked in Cleveland in heavy music areas and worked in Cincinnati on the river and in Covington, Ky., and Evansville, Ind.
"I worked 240 days a year for 10 years. I did about 2,000 nights. I was single. I didn't have a house payment. I lived in hotel rooms.
"A lot of people around me got into the drug scene, but I was for hire, so I was the consummate professional. I kept my wits about me. That's why I worked a lot.
"I moved to Nashville in ''97 and started doing a lot of studio recording. I would help producers trying to put acts together. I'd tell them who the weak links were in a band. I did that for two years.
"I was still living in Columbus and I would fly back and forth. In the airport in Columbus, I met my now ex-wife. I'd known her in college.
"I was 39 and very tired of playing music and traveling. I started going back to Charleston. My parents were getting older. Their properties needed maintenance. I looked at it as a business opportunity.
"I talked to my wife about Charleston. She liked it, so we moved here. Between my mother and father and our attorney, all three of them knew everything, but not one of them knew it all. I had to pick all three of their brains to find out what was going on.
"We bought Village Auto. When I was a kid, people would leave abandoned cars on my dad's parking lots. He would say, 'There's an old truck over here. If you can get it running, you can have it.' So a week later, I am driving this truck.
"I would just get in there and pull things apart. That's how I got my mechanical skills. So at Village Auto, it was nothing for me to fall back into that. I've got a good manager over there now.
"I ran into a friend who was a master builder. He taught me masonry and how to plumb and frame. I fixed my dad's properties, one after another. If I couldn't fix it, I tore it down and rebuilt. We have about 20 properties.
"While in Columbus, I had a roommate, Douglas Miller, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. That's where I got my culinary skills.
"My dad was always trying to get me to open a restaurant. We got the idea for Adelphia. My dad bought the McCrory's building in 1984. Soon after that, McCrory's went bankrupt. It sat empty for a few years, then it was Bellacino's, a sub shop.
"I got with my buddy, the master builder, and we did the buildout, just a little three-man crew. I wired and plumbed every inch of this place. I opened May 6, 2011.
"I try to infuse Greek stuff with American stuff. I didn't want to put Sports Bar and Grill on the sign, but I thought it would bring people in. I would let them find out about the Greek stuff on their own.
"After about eight months, the Greek stuff was selling the best. All the Greek things are my grandmother's recipes. I grew up in her kitchen, watching her.
"When I came to Charleston, I couldn't get any food late at night. I decided to be open every day and stay open late. That was the model Spyros had at the Fan Club. He was open seven days a week until 3 a.m., even holidays. I saw that model work.
"When we opened, my general manager, Tracy Abdalla, asked if I was going to advertise. I said, 'No. I will open the doors and go on the sidewalk and invite people in to eat.' I just opened the doors and let it happen.
"My dad named it Adelphia. Adelphia means family, brothers and sisters. My sister Zoe is CFO. I'm CEO. My brother Andy manages the parking lots. My sister Rita runs the car wash. My brother Louie just retired. His son, Eli, runs the new restaurant, Adelphia Limited at Boulevard Towers.
"One thing that sells well here is my Adelphia wing sauce. Servers started using it on everything. I'm working on bottling that. Another thing is my grandmother's salad dressing. I'm thinking about jarring that, too. And the ballpark wants us to sell our wings there.
"My divorce took a chunk out of me. Spyros died. My wife filed for divorce. My mother died eight months later. My divorce was just recently final. But I have kind of come through the tunnel. I want to let myself enjoy what's happening.
"I'm not just Spyros' son. I have my own identity. I know who I am. I live for my two boys -- they are 9 and 11 -- and our businesses. I want to leave my sons the legacy my parents left.
"I am not trying to reinvent the wheel with our family and our businesses. I am merely trying to keep it rolling."
Reach Sandy Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5173.