Lillian Malas, 95, immigrant from Greece, worked with family at Duffy's restaurant


Lillian Malas, a teen-age shepherd in her native Greece who became a Baltimore restaurateur -- as famous for her crab cakes as she was for her religious work ethic -- died Saturday at her Reisterstown home. She was 95 and died of natural causes.

Mrs. Malas stopped her work in the kitchen of Duffy's, her family's Southwest Baltimore restaurant that closed this year, when she was incapacitated by a stroke, said her daughter Mary Aiello. She had been retired for a year.

"She seemed to thrive on working. All she ever did was get up, go to work. She drove herself to Duffy's every day until she was 83. If it wasn't for two hip replacements, she would still be driving," Ms. Aiello said.

Mrs. Malas, along with her father and three siblings, came from a small village near Sparta in 1918, using money from selling olives and figs to buy the first of their several businesses, a Walbrook Junction confectionary store.

Later, a pharmacy at Baltimore and Gilmor streets owned by Malas and her husband, Sam Malas, was remembered for its soda fountain with a marble counter, red leather stools and homemade chocolate syrup. Her husband died in 1960. They were married 33 years.

Ms. Aiello said she never remembers her mother taking time off to raise her four children -- she just brought them to the store to stock shelves and mix the chocolate syrup.

Mrs. Malas is remembered in her later years by patrons of Duffy's, who would wave to her in the kitchen as she patted bread crumbs on oysters or dipped her fingers in a bowl of crab meat.

Ms. Aiello said her mother was able to stay healthy and work so long because "she never had refined sugar until she came to America. She ate greens every day and very little meat. She never smoked. And she made her own homemade yogurt."

A son, opera star and actor Spiro Malas, said his mother didn't understand why he took up singing as a career when he could work at Duffy's.

"She said, 'Come home and get a job in the restaurant and stop all this running around,' " he recalled in a telephone interview from New York.

Later, when her son became famous, Mrs. Malas traveled to London and other cities to hear him sing and to cook Greek dishes of lamb and moussaka for Luciano Pavarotti and her son's other friends. And when opera stars like Beverly Sills performed in Baltimore, they ate at Duffy's.

"Mama Malas," as she was called in the opera world, "was never in awe of these stars because she never knew the opera scene," said her son. To her, even Mr. Pavarotti was just "a very nice boy."

As a young immigrant, Mrs. Malas taught herself English and U.S. history, memorizing state capitals and the names of the original colonies. She dropped out of school after fifth grade.

Her daughter said that whenever Mrs. Malas was asked whether she would like to return to Greece, she would say that when she left her homeland, "I had rags on my feet. When I came to America, I put on my first pair of shoes and I'm not ever going back to live in Greece."

In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. Malas is survived by another son, Gus Malas, and another daughter, Susan Parthemos, both of Baltimore; six grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

Services are at noon today at the Greek Orthodox Cemetery Chapel on Windsor Mill Road in Woodlawn.

Memorial donations may be made to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, at Maryland Avenue and West Preston Street.

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