Louis J. Vastardis, 97, of Newtown Square, a Greek immigrant who rose from humble roots to become a well-known builder of restaurants, died Sunday, Jan. 12, of pneumonia at Bryn Mawr Hospital.
Mr. Vastardis was born in the village of Syneti on the island of Andros.
When he was 13, his mother died, leaving him and his sister to care for the household. He took odd jobs, and although he wanted to become a sailor, he apprenticed as a carpenter, learning furniture-making and cabinetry.
At the outbreak of World War II, Greece was occupied by Nazi Germany. Mr. Vastardis and some friends fled in a small motorboat to Turkey, where they volunteered for the British army. They were taken to Gaza for basic training.
After the training, Mr. Vastardis was assigned to the British Royal Air Force as an aircraft mechanic deployed to North Africa. Toward the end of the war, he landed with the Allied forces in southern Italy.
After his service, Mr. Vastardis realized his dream of becoming a sailor. A deck hand and helmsman, he joined his father on voyages to the United States.
Encouraged by his father to seek a new life in America, he stepped ashore in Newport News, Va., in 1947 and decided to stay.
He lived with an uncle in Reading, helping him paint farmhouses and office buildings in Philadelphia. In 1948, he was introduced to Goldie Stamis. Their marriage lasted until her death in 2002.
Mr. Vastardis worked long hours painting bridges, high tension towers, and the sign atop the PSFS Building in Center City. When he had saved enough money, he bought a small, dilapidated house in West Philadelphia, restoring it with the carpentry skills he had learned as a youth.
Soon he was able to buy a second house nearby, which he restored for his family to live in. He supplemented his earnings with rental income from the first property. Gradually, by living frugally, he saved enough money to make real estate investments.
He partnered with a friend and went into the construction business. In 1962, he and his wife formed Vastardis Construction. She kept the books. The firm in Lansdowne built more than 100 restaurants and diners in the Philadelphia area and New Jersey.
Among the local landmarks were Ponzio’s in Cherry Hill, the former Olga’s Diner in Marlton, and Fisher’s Tudor House in Bensalem. He created a second company that built custom interiors for the restaurants.
He gained a reputation for quality craftsmanship and integrity. “He did a lot of work for us at Ponzio’s,” said former owner Chris Fifis. “He was a craftsman. He just didn’t do the job, he did the job right. Cut corners? That would never happen.”
Usually jovial and smiling, Mr. Vastardis could become serious in an instant when dealing with work. “When it came to business, he was all business. He made sure everything was right,” Fifis said.
Many of his clients did so well in the restaurants he built that he was known as “Golden Hands,” the family said in a statement. He retired in 1992. The firm closed later.
Mr. Vastardis and his wife extended a helping hand to friends and family whenever it was needed. “He was both a giving and a forgiving man, and rarely asked for debts to be repaid,” the family said.
When his wife died, Mr. Vastardis donated money for projects in her name, including restoration work and the installation of new church bells at St. Luke Greek Orthodox Church in Broomall, where they worshipped. He also created a scholarship program at the Hellenic American University and for local trade schools.
In a memoir he wrote, Mr. Vastardis held himself out as an example of how sacrifice, hard work, patience, and love can lead to a better life. “He was one of a kind,” Fifis said.
He is survived by children John, Celeste V. Brathole, and Nicholas; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.