Rock Creek landmark may open again on west side, owner says

Two days before Christmas, a crowd of loyal customers gathered at Mad Greek Deli to receive some less than festive news: The landmark restaurant that has stayed in the same family and served up gyros at the corner of West Union Road and 185th Avenue since 1977 would close within the month.

“The building is 115 years old and has finally gotten the best of me,” owner Pantelis “Pondo” Kosmas explained. He described the substantial but largely cosmetic upgrades he had made to the building, which he does not own.

“As far as business goes, it’s the most reasonable thing to do,” Mad Greek employee Ryan Geale said of Kosmas’ decision. Geale has worked at the location off and on since he was 14, and reports a sinking back room, issues with the foundation and a laundry list of more minor flaws that make daily operations increasingly difficult.

“I think the last month is as much as we can take, and that’s that. Pondo wanted to do it as long as he could with what we had, then leave on a good note,” Geale added.

The less than 4,000-square-foot building maintains a modest roadhouse presence that belies such classic culinary touchstones as its namesake sandwich, which boasts four kinds of meat, and the deli’s long-held status as a meet-up spot in Rock Creek.

Geale describes Mad Greek’s clientele as “bicyclists, bikers and Intel employees,” as well as “generations and generations” of locals.

When Kosmas took over the family business seven years ago, he remodeled the former corner grocery store, adding booths and tables and striving for a sit-down feel. He also created a full bar.

In early 2012, Kosmas opened a second Mad Greek location at the former site of Foti’s Greek Deli, 1740 E. Burnside St., a longtime Buckman neighborhood institution owned by his uncle Fotios “Foti” Kosmas. Kosmas revamped the mom-and-pop establishment into what Geale accurately compared to a traditional Irish sports bar — with a Mediterranean twist. Christened as Mad Greek’s second location, the place quickly became an official Timbers’ pub partner and a new, decidedly Greek tradition was adopted.

“Every goal that the Timbers scored, we’d give free shots of Ouzo to everybody,” Geale said. “That caught on like crazy.”

Going out on a high note

Like Kosmas, Geale’s first job was at Mad Greek. It’s a place the 24-year-old, part-time filmmaker can’t stay away from for long. He describes his current position as manager, cook and server.

“Everyone does everything here,” Geale said, adding the location is staffed by five employees, many of whom will continue to work at the Southeast Portland location.

Though Kosmas first made the announcement over a public address system near the bar, word has traveled fast about Mad Greek’s upcoming shuttering. A post on Mad Greek’s Facebook page has attracted more than 170 comments, many of them by customers waxing nostalgic about the Greek fries — not jojo potatoes, mind you — and mourning the changing “Mad Greek corner.”

Geale is uncertain what will become of the building at the iconic intersection that once boasted another business from the Greek Boys, Inc. empire: Rock Creek Cafe and Pub, which until 2007 was owned by former Mad Greek co-owner George Athanasakis.

But Kosmas reminded fans they could still get their Mad Greek “fix” on the east side and insisted his restaurant won’t stay away from the west side for long.

Geale and bartender Ryan West agreed that a Mad Greek re-opening was inevitable, and predicted Kosmas might ultimately strengthen the brand with two more locations.

“I think (Kosmas) feels the smarter route for his business would to be just move and sit on the eastside location for a bit, and hopefully open up something else down here,” Geale said.

Kosmas will keep the deli open until Jan. 25 and close it with a “last call party,” he said.

“We will go till no one else is there,” Kosmas promised customers.

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