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Life and Work

A slice of life at Exit 3

A visit with the extended family thats been making pizza for more than 25 years

BRATTLEBORO—Spiro Leristas grew up in a family of 11 children — five brothers and six sisters.

While some of them are not immediately close by — two remain in Greece, for example, and one works as a taxi driver in New York — on weekends, it feels as though all of them are at Village Pizza, eating, talking, planning, gesturing, rolling their eyes, and cooking at their Putney Road establishment, just north of the Route 5 roundabout at Exit 3 off Interstate 91.

There’s the constant presence of Katerina Leristas, Spiro’s wife, and her mother and father, Constantina and Panagiotis Christofidellus, and a community of nieces and nephews.

Then there are the regulars the Leristas claim as family. Katerina’s niece, Christiana Lanoue, a third grader with an anthropologist’s knack for family lines and names, was hanging out with her aunt one recent Saturday, sometimes correcting her when she got a cousin’s name wrong.

“I remember 20 years ago people coming in when their children couldn’t see over the counter and I used to draw flowers on their hands,” Katerina Leristas recalled. “Now those children are coming in with their children and I make flowers for them. We adopt everyone here.”

The Leristas family immigrated to New York in 1960 from Limnos, a Greek island in the northern Aegean. Katerina is also from Limnos, but did not know Spiro there.  They met when Katerina, who had moved to Germany, was on the island vacationing, as was Spiro.

Most of the family moved to Vermont several years later. As Spiro said, “My brother came up here and really liked the country so that’s why we came.”

From Greece to Vermont

Village Pizza opened in 1985, and Katerina and Spiro Leristas took it over from a family member in 1991.

Relatives own other nearby pizza parlors, including Pizzeria Effestia in Swanzey, N.H., and Vermont Inn Pizza in Brattleboro. Other brothers and sisters come and go at the restaurant, eating, cooking, and running things.

Katerina and Spiro work on the weekends, and during the week a manager, Cengiz Karagoz — who Spiro insists is a brother, but who is Turkish and not a brother — manages the place, but he’s also there on weekends with his wife and two children.  Karagoz son, Ruchan, 9, keeps up with the family patter.

It’s hard to say if Karagoz is working or just having a good time, although he does appear from time to time behind the counter.

Meanwhile, as all this is taking place, customers come through getting takeout and also sitting down for meals.

One Saturday, Berenice Brooks, familiar to many people after 25 years of doing everything at Townshend’s Grace Cottage Hospital, was there with her daughter Christina Erunski and three grandchildren. Before starting at the hospital, Brooks worked for 17 years at Mary Meyer, the toy manufacturer in Townshend.

“We come maybe every few months,” Brooks said, “It’s the best pizza around.”

There is no question that this pizza-plus restaurant is run by Greeks. And just in case you might not get this two minutes after walking in, Spiro Leristas will set you straight immediately.

“This is Greek pizza, medium-thick crust,” he explains. “Italian pizza is a thin slice you can put in your hand and walk away. Here, you get a pizza, and a family of four can have it for dinner.”

Eating their vegetables

Leristas says that while not much has changed in the 25 years he’s been making pizzas in Brattleboro, he does allow that people today eat more vegetables than they used to, they have more respect for food, and they’re friendlier.

“We have eggplant pizza,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, most people didn’t know what an eggplant was. Now we have broccoli, spinach.”

He also says that the ovens have changed, that they’re much hotter now and a pizza is baked in about 20 minutes.

Leristas makes his own tomato sauce, using canned tomatoes then adding the traditional flavorings and cooking, he says, for about 45 minutes.

He makes his own dough, about 85 pounds a day, which, he says makes between 85 and 95 small, medium and large pizzas. He says, on average, the restaurant sells about 100 pizzas a day.

The pizzas come in three sizes — small, large, and family. Then there are the oven-toasted grinders, and other sandwich combos, like the steak, mayo, and cheese and the chicken, cheese, and tomato on rolls.

Also on the menu: spaghetti dinners, Greek salad, and antipastos. And there is the traditional gyro, a sandwich of either beef or lamb or both on pita bread and slathered with tzatziki sauce, a traditional Greek dressing usually made from yogurt, cucumbers, lemon juice, oil, and dill.

And there is of course baklava, the dessert made from phyllo sheets, with butter, nuts, cinnamon, honey, and lots of other things that add to the sweetness and chewiness of the popular pastry.

Leristas says he buys his bread from the Piantedosi Baking Company in Malden, Mass., just outside of Boston, and his baklava from a pastry company near New York.

On one Saturday afternoon, a Leristos nephew, Chris Papadimitriou, sat in a booth with Spiro reading mail and studying the new edition of the monthly, Pizza Today. He was talking about the pizza expos held in Las Vegas, Chicago and Atlantic City.

“It’s a weekend, there are classes and speakers and you learn a lot, not necessarily about pizza but about life — you learn to make more of what you have.”

Katerina and Spiro Leristas have lived for four years in Spofford, N.H., after years of living above the store.  They have two young children, who, according to Katerina, are called the “pizza babies.”

Spiro says about his business, “I love it more than anything, more and more every day.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #86 (Wednesday, February 2, 2011).

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