No Name No MOre
What do Leonard Nimoy, David Hasselhoff, Dinah Shore, Colonel Sanders, and Queen (think Freddie Mercury) have in common?
They have all dined at the No Name Restaurant on Boston's Fish Pier.
On December 30, 2019, at 10:55 pm, the restaurant famous for having no name announced on Facebook, the business would be closing forever, ending over 100 years of continuous seafood dining delight. Jimmy Klidaras' family was facing a storm of financial difficulties, so on the same day of the announcement, the family filed for bankruptcy. Little did we or they know what a more horrific storm awaited us of all in just a few months.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jimmy Klidaras for my book project, Stories from the Rolodex, which will publish at the end of the year. He is a quiet, kind man who worked twelve hours a day in the restaurant, seven days a week. He didn't marry until he was in his 40s, probably because who would have time to find someone, fall in love, and marry when working 70 to 80-hours a week.
I found Jimmy through a Rolodex card on file from an antique Rolodex once used by the wire service, United Press International. There are stories behind Rolodex cards, people represent the Rolodex cards, and Jimmy was one of them. The No Name was frequented by the journalists who worked in the bureau office.
I didn't start out as a writer. Rather I was a retail salesperson for newspapers for over forty years. To this day, I find it interesting to convince twenty-five strangers to talk to me; in most cases, let me record their words and tell me their life story. The only one I knew was Joe McQuaid, former publisher of the Union Leader and for whom I worked for fourteen years. The rest of the journalists were from New York, Texas, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. But talk to me, they did, and the result is a collection of remarkable stories of wars, racial unrest, and surviving a building collapse when Russian tanks attack. Tom Foty, still a working journalist for CBS Radio, speaks of spies, of being in the lobby of the police station when the Son of Sam murderer was brought in, and being on the ground to report on the Guyana Jonestown massacre where over 900 people died.
The link was the Rolodex, of which the No Name had a card on file. And so, I made a date to speak to Jimmy on March 31, 2018, to interview him for the book. He was the third interview I conducted out of a total of twenty-six of whom the majority were hardened journalists who would know a fraud when they heard one. The link that got me in the door, so to speak, was this huge, old gray Rolodex holding over 700 cards. The men and women I talked to remembered using the old card catalog and spoke fondly of spinning the wheel to find a card, a name, a phone number.
When we spoke in March 2018, Jimmy was 55 years old and had worked at the restaurant since he was ten years old. Hard work is what you did and do for a family business. You pitch in and give your all. I understand the concept as my husband, Michael, and partner Tom, and I own a Londonderry fitness training center. Michael works six days a week, and many days in the week, he starts at 5:30 am and is not home until after 6 pm.
So, how did you find a restaurant in Boston without a name? You go to the fish pier where everybody knew of the nameless restaurant with the best seafood. Jimmy Klidaras' family owned the No Name Restaurant since 1917 from its inception over 100 years ago. Jimmy's great uncle Yanni Contos started the restaurant, and his son Nicholas "Nick" Contos eventually took over. The No Name had always been on the Fish Pier in Boston. Jimmy's aunt, Katrina Contos, was at the current top of the hierarchy.
There was no sign initially, and Nick said, "if it works, leave it alone."
The family originated in Greece, where Yanni learned to cook and bake bread. "He was an artist," Jimmy declared. They were a serious restaurant family. When Nick's wife was pregnant, he told her, "Don't have the baby on a Friday. It's the busiest day of the week." Jimmy recalled, "Aunt Katherine had Yanni," named after the original Yanni.
Jimmy spoke lovingly of his uncle, Nick. Nick Contos attended Harvard Business School and New York University and served in the Army. He taught Jimmy everything. "I loved him like a father."
Jimmy was born in Mission Hill, Boston. He explained, "When the economy drops, our customers are working people. Our people are regulars. Four to five generations have eaten here." With a smile, he confided, "our customers are not internet savvy." The restaurant had 30 to 40 full-timers. "We don't lay off in the winter, " he had said that day. "We cut back the number of days they work, but they stay employed. We closed for one day this winter due to snow. We close on Thanksgiving and Christmas."
Less than a year after our conversation, the restaurant was closed. Maybe there was a bit of a blessing they could end the business run on their terms, not at the ravages of a virus shutting down businesses in a day.
The No Name was one of a handful of non-chain restaurants in the Boston area. When I left, Jimmy loaded me down with generous helpings of lobster and fish chowder and a T-shirt marking their 100th anniversary.
Unfortunately, Jimmy's interview did not make the cut for the book. With all the bombast and exaggeration in the news today, I wanted to share my conversation with a quiet gentleman who spoke to a stranger and gave them food for their journey back home.