Going Greek: remembering Charlie Nikita’s A&W

Pappa Charlie’s Deli in its 1976 Spring Street location

Today’s students may not be aware that we were presented with no choice of entrée at mealtimes for four long years: either we had to eat the meal chosen by the college foodservice or else hit the snack bar. Fortunately for hungry students, the A&W chain sold hamburgers and fries as well as root beer, and one was located along Route 2 heading toward North Adams, within easy driving distance. Although these traditional staples of the American diet might be dismissed today as junk food, they represented foods from the gods to us.

The local A&W Root Beer stand was owned by Charlie Nikitas. His name was immortalized on Spring Street beginning in 1976 when Pappa Charlie’s Deli opened. On one occasion a carload of Williams ’68 classmates visited the stand, with Arthur Cambouris serving as their spokesman and linguistic emissary. Charlie had been born in Greece, and Arthur was fluent in the language. On arrival Arthur approached the building while the others waited in the car. As soon as he greeted the proprietor in their common tongue and initiated a conversation, bonding instantly occurred. Charlie was simply overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude when someone spoke to him in his native language in the wilds of western Massachusetts.

This led to an outpouring of hospitality by Charlie to Arthur and his car mates, in the form of bags of burgers and fries along with drinks, free of charge. It was a win-win situation: Charlie was momentarily transported back to his native land, and hungry students got to devour copious quantities of free fast food.
Two of us in the car besides Arthur were Pancho Demakis and Bob Heiss. Does anyone else remember this expedition, and who else was on board?