WATERVILLE — Stavros Kosmidis sat Monday in his brand-spanking new Waterville House of Pizza, with windows offering a front row seat to construction of the expansive new Colby College dormitory across the street downtown.

Kosmidis, who has owned the restaurant for 10 years, was beaming.

“I’ve had a lot of compliments, from people left and right — people I have never met,” he said.

The 67-year-old could not have known four years ago when he bought the building at 145 and 147 Main St. that an ambitious downtown revitalization effort would be underway that is expected to bring more businesses and people living and working in the heart of the city, within a stone’s throw from his doorstep.

By August, the Colby dorm will be home to 200 students, faculty and staff.

“We’re looking forward to having Colby College kids come over, and try to increase the business,” Kosmidis said.

Last week, his House of Pizza moved from a rented space at 139 Main St. into half of his new building, specifically 145 Main, which was gutted and has been under redevelopment for the last four months by Kavestone LLC. That construction company is owned by Uria Pelletier who recently purchased the former Boys & Girls Club on Main Place.

The new House of Pizza has all new kitchen equipment, a large dining area that seats up to about 60 people, a new storefront and sign, freshly-painted walls, including an original exposed brick wall that has been sandblasted, new floors, windows and bathrooms featuring pricey, floor to ceiling porcelain tile. The restaurant also has a new heating system, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical work and a sprinkler system.

“We came in, in September, and took down the storefront and revealed the brick and found out this used to be a laundry building,” Pelletier said about the pizza shop. “They did laundry for, I’m assuming, businesses, maybe the mills.”

The space formerly was home to Attitudes Hair Salon which moved to Winslow about a year ago. Next door, at 147 Main St., the space was vacated by Thai Bistro for renovation and the restaurant will move back in when it is completed, according to Kosmidis.

Upstairs in the building, built in 1913, Kavestone is constructing two one-bedroom, one 3-bedroom and one two-bedroom apartments, one of which Kosmidis will live in after completion.

Experts in downtown development have said for years that in order for a downtown to be successful and thrive, more people must be living and working downtown.

Colby is investing many millions of dollars in the city’s downtown by building the $25.5 million mixed-use residential complex at 150 Main St. that will house Camden National Bank and retail on the ground floor. Colby is buying the current Camden bank building and plans to build a boutique hotel on the south end of Main Street. The college also has renovated 173 Main St., the former Waterville Savings Bank building, into offices, with retail space on the ground floor.

The college is raising millions more to renovate The Center at 93 Main St. into an art and film center and has purchased vacant buildings with plans for more development.

Although Portland Pie Co., which also serves pizza, is renovating part of the ground floor retail space at 173 Main Street, a couple of storefronts from House of Pizza, Kosmidis said he isn’t concerned — in fact, he welcomes any new businesses that move downtown, he said.

“For me, the market is open for everybody,” Kosmidis said. “Portland Pie will have their items. I will have my own. They don’t deliver — we deliver. Most of our business — 70 percent — is delivery. I will be doing my best like I always do and they will do their best. I’m not worried about it.”

A LONG ROAD

Kosmidis, who also owns two rental properties in Waterville, is doing well business-wise, but he has worked hard to get to where he is and has had his ups and downs along the way.

An amiable man with a gentle demeanor, Kosmidis said he likes Waterville, has met a lot of friendly people here, and feels at home.

Born in Russia in 1951 to a large Greek family which moved to Greece in 1965, Kosmidis came alone to the U.S. in 1974, landing in Worcester, Massachusetts, at 3 a.m.

“I was 22 and couldn’t speak English. I had no relatives, no friends and the only thing I had was the address for a shoe company in Worcester that sponsored me from Greece. Everything was closed and I saw one building was lighted and I went in with my suitcase and the guy said, ‘What do you want?'”

Kosmidis said he wanted to sleep and paid the man money for a hotel room but it was teeming with cockroaches. The man then placed him on the third floor which was much cleaner and the next morning, Kosmidis took a cab to the shoe company and started to work. He met a Greek man at work who let him stay at his house for two weeks until he could find an apartment.

Kosmidis eventually left the shoe company, attended high school during the day to learn English and worked nights as a bus boy in a restaurant, cleaning tables.

“Certain things you remember for the rest of your life,” he said. “One day there was so much snow, I took a city bus to school. The bus driver tried to tell me there is no school today. I could not understand. He dropped me off almost in downtown Worcester. When I came to the United States I didn’t have boots. I had good shoes in Greece, where the weather is like Florida. By the time I got home, my feet felt frozen. I couldn’t feel them, and I remember that like yesterday.”

He worked at the restaurant three or four more years and then met a Greek man who owned a nightclub. Kosmidis started working there, selling cheeseburgers and hot dogs to the bar crowd. He did all sorts of jobs after that, including selling pots and pans — and even Avon — and painting for a construction business. He attended college to study to become a laboratory technician and then worked in a hospital three years while he also worked at a pizza shop. He made only $170 a week working in the lab, but earned $200 a week working only two days in the pizza shop — so he decided to work full time in the pizza business.

In the 1980s he met his future wife and married, bought a bakery building in Worcester, renovated it and turned it into a pizza shop. Later, he went into business in Boston.

Kosmidis came to Waterville 10 years ago after learning from a Realtor on Cape Cod that the House of Pizza, which then had been in business 25 years in Waterville, was for sale.

He was broke and owed a lot of money to a Boston bank, he said, and in 2003 he had lost restaurants and properties in Boston after partnering in business with some young people who did not do well.

Kosmidis worked for the next five years in restaurants and pizza places, earning $8 an hour. He decided to sell property he owned in Greece, drove from Boston to Waterville with his brother one night and arrived at the House of Pizza at 11 p.m., he recalled. As they stood in the busy restaurant, the phone was ringing and ringing and no one was picking it up. Kosmidis said his rule is to never let a phone ring more than once.

I said to my brother, ‘You know, I think I’m going to buy it.’ He said, ‘Are you crazy? The place closes at 2 o’clock in the morning and is open seven days a week.'”

Kosmidis, whose brother has since died, recalled the owner, Angelo Gudis, asked him if his wife and two children would be moving to Waterville — they lived in Fitchburg, Mass. — and when Kosmidis told him they were not, Gudis said it would never work.

Others were interested in buying the business and Gudis, who died a few years ago, asked his loyal, 16-year-employee, Silke Cormier, who she would like him to sell it to and she said, “If you sell it to Stavros, I will stay to work here; otherwise, I will leave,'” Kosmidis recalled.

GREAT THINGS

On Monday, Cormier, who still works at the business, said the renovations and move have been a long time coming and she is very pleased with it.

Kosmidis and his family travel to see each other. His wife, Effie, lives in Fitchburg, their daughter, Christina, 24, attends pharmaceutical school, and son, Nicholas, 20, studied biology at University of Maine, Orono, but is taking a year off. He has worked at House of Pizza and plans to return, according to Kosmidis.

Kosmidis and Pelletier, the construction company owner, met through a mutual friend, Jim Cormier, Silke’s ex-husband, who is a plumber and did all the plumbing work in the building. Kosmidis hired Pelletier as a contractor for work before even settling on a price — and they have become such good friends that their families visit each other, with the Pelletiers even traveling to Fitchburg.

Pelletier and Kosmidis see great things happening in Waterville and are happy to be part of it, they said.

When Kosmidis lived in Worcester, Massachusetts in the late 1970s, a friend tried to convince him to buy houses, as the price for a two or three-decker home was $60,000 to $70,000.

“I was 22 or 23 and I said no I don’t want to do that,” Kosmidis recalled. “He sold those houses 10 years ago for $300,000 each and when I came here, I saw Waterville exactly the same way as Worcester. I know the prices are very low now but they will eventually go up, especially with Colby College investing so much money.”

Kosmidis said he has come to know Paul Ureneck, director of commercial real estate for Elm City LLC, an affiliate of Colby. Ureneck, who supervises Colby construction projects downtown, has become a regular customer at Kosmidis’ business, which serves not only pizza but also pasta, salads, hot and cold sandwiches, full dinners and more.

Kosmidis employs about 15 people but can use more, he said. The business opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 1 a.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and closes at 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The businesses’ new online ordering site is www.whoponlineme.com

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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