Angelo J. Nopulos, co-owner for nearly 30 years of the popular Double T Diner in Catonsville, where people from all walks of life rubbed elbows with society swells, judges, businessmen, politicians and celebrities, died Saturday of a heart attack at his Arbutus home. He was 98.
The son of a barber and homemaker who were Greek immigrants, Angelo James Nopulos was born in Pittsburgh and raised in San Diego and Weirton, W.Va., where he dropped out of school in the ninth grade.
"He was kind of a free spirit, and he kind of wandered the country helping out family members who owned various restaurants before the war," said a daughter, Diane Puigdomenech of New Port Richey, Fla.
In those pre-war years, Mr. Nopulos held various jobs and worked as a welder, driver, salesman, bookkeeper and "even a bouncer," wrote his nephew, Ted Barris, in an online tribute.
In 1942, he married the former Virginia Kontozoglus, whose father owned a luncheonette in New York City.
Mr. Nopulos enlisted in the Army during World War II, serving stateside as a technician with the 80th Infantry Training Battalion. He was discharged at war's end as a sergeant.
In 1945, Mr. Nopulos and a brother and sister opened Alpha Lunch on Frederick Road in Catonsville.
"My father then returned to New York where he worked in his father-in-law's luncheonette," said Ms. Puigdomenech, who said her father later moved back to Catonsville.
In 1956, Thomas Doxanas opened the original Double T Diner on U.S. 40 in Rosedale, with his partner Tony Papadis. It was named for the T's in their names.
With the coming of the Baltimore Beltway, the partners saw an opportunity for expansion and opened diners in Catonsville and Pikesville and on Loch Raven Boulevard.
Originally, Mr. Nopulos and his brother, Nick James Nopulos, who died in 2012, managed the location at U.S. 40 and Rolling Road in Catonsville, until purchasing the business in the early 1960s.
"The Double T was known for its friendly atmosphere and great food. It was a caring family environment where regulars were treated like family. People came from miles around for its stuffed flounder, crab cakes, roast beef and hot turkey sandwiches," Ms. Puigdomenech said.
In 1981, a Baltimore Sun food critic wrote that the Double T "was by all odds the highest visibility diner in the state with an elaborate menu, cocktails and a tremendous following."
The diner was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After the brothers couldn't locate the keys to lock up the Double T one Christmas, they never locked its doors again, family members said.
"We'd go there after dances and late at night. It was the only place that was open," recalled Mary Garson, who grew up in Catonsville in the 1960s. "I'd go for the french fries and gravy. That's what I always wanted."
"My mother and an aunt were hostesses and my father was the cook. He worked from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. He never took a family vacation until 1976," his daughter said. "He controlled all the orders and made sure they got out efficiently during the rush hours. His famous line was 'Don't burn the toast!'"
"He greeted guests, provided free coffee to all police officers, organized staff schedules, handled the bookkeeping and during peak periods ran the kitchen by cooking the specialties himself and calling out all the orders personally," wrote Mr. Barris, a Canadian author and writer who lives in Toronto and worked at the Double T as a busboy in the summer of 1965.
"That summer holiday I learned about ornery customers' kids, spilled ketchup and mustard, neurotic waitresses and smiling no matter what," he wrote. "And I truly learned from the master — Angelo — what was meant by customer service. 'You've got to be there to deliver it,' he'd say."
Jim Corneos, the founder in 1962 of the nearby Dimitri's International Grille on Frederick Road, was a longtime customer and friend.
"He had the best breakfasts and suppers. I liked the stuffed peppers, pastitsio and moussaka," said Mr. Corneos. "Angelo was a very unique man with a very sound mind, which he had to the end."
Brothers John, Tom and Louie Korologos purchased the business in 1987 from Mr. Nopulos and his brother.
"Angelo was good people. There was no question about that. We wouldn't be where we are today without Angelo and his brother," said Tom Korologos. "Angelo would come in for lunch or dinner. He was just here two weeks ago and would always come on Wednesday."
"Angelo was a generous and humble individual, ready to help anyone who needed assistance," said George Moniodis, who had been a diner customer since 1972, and in recent years was a member of a Wednesday pinochle group that met in a room above the diner.
Mr. Nopulos was a 32nd-degree Mason and a member of the Boumi Temple and the Warren Lodge. He was a member of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday in the chapel of the Greek Orthodox Cemetery, 5917 Windsor Mill Road, Windsor Mill.
In addition to Ms. Puigdomenech, Mr. Nopulos is survived by another daughter, Barbara Harris of Catonsville; three sisters, Sophia Taylor of Manchester, and Rose Anastos and Mary Keffalos, both of Warren, Ohio; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife died in 2008.