Platon Mantheakis, 50
I was born and raised in Tanzania. Our family is among the oldest remaining white settlers in Tanzania. My heritage is from Greece.
Hospitality is in the nature of the culture of the people I come from. In the Greek language, everyone is referred to as a guest. Greece has 11 million people—and 10 million tourists. In the bush in Tanzania, we’d always have visitors.
An aunt of mine from England moved to Eugene and opened a Greek restaurant called Poppi’s. She wrote me from this place called Oregon. There was a school there with a program in hospitality.
I came over from England in 1981 and joined that program at Lane Community College. When I first came to the Appelgate Valley, I saw the peach trees and apricots and I recognized my cultural heritage of Greece.
In Greece they say, if you’re not working for yourself, you work for the toughest employer. You learn how to survive and then how to thrive. I asked many people in the Jacksonville area, who’s the toughest guy to work for? They said, without a doubt, Jerry Evans, the owner of the Jacksonville Inn.
Waiting on tables early on, I learned a lifelong lesson. I would always take the difficult customers. Especially in American culture, it’s laid back and it’s easy to be repulsed by those who are arrogant. In Europe, this situation is more common. But I always said, “Give me the difficult ones—the ones who have the waitresses in tears.” Once you got to know them, you find that they all have a common feature—everybody had a private pain. I learned never to condemn someone for being difficult.
I haven’t found a place that is as balanced as the Pacific Northwest—balanced in its people, in its geography and its respect for the environment. It’s a place of new ideas. I have everything I want here. If I want a taste of northern Greece, I’ll go to the vineyards and the orchards. Someone put in tens of thousands of olive trees here and, because of my Greek heritage, that makes me happy. It feels like home. If I want a taste of Africa, I go to eastern Oregon where there is red clay. It reminds me of the savanna in Africa.
Jacksonville was the first city whose historic core was declared a historic city. If we lose sight of this, we lose everything.