Nikolaos Tserkis, who transformed a gas station into the Captain James Landing seafood restaurant in Canton, died of pneumonia Monday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 76.
Born in Karpathos, Greece, he became a sailor and immigrated to New York City.
In 1966 he settled in Baltimore and initially worked at H&S Bakery. He later founded his own business.
“He was the leader of his family — his parents died when he was fairly young — and wanted to bring his brothers to the United States to live the American Dream. That dream came true as his time here progressed,” said a cousin, Maria Nicolaidis, a Baltimore resident.
After leaving the bakery Mr. Tserkis became a painter. As they arrived from Greece, his brothers joined him in an industrial paint business. They worked on numerous local contracts, including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, as well as other smaller spans and projects at the U.S. Naval Academy.
The family settled in Southeast Baltimore. They also acquired property along the waterfront. They had a marina off Boston Street and acquired a parking lot that doubled as a place to steam hard crabs.
Demos Anastasiades, a friend, said Mr. Tserkis was a welcoming and generous man.
“Everybody knew Nick,” he said. “He was quiet. He just sat there and listened and listened some more. He was never a bragger.”
Mr. Anastasiades said his friend was a leader in his community and was well known among those who had immigrated from the Karpathos region.
“It didn’t matter what it was, Nick was there to help you. I was new to Baltimore — and not from Karpathos — and at the time my wife was pregnant,” said Mr. Anastasiades. “He gave us an apartment he had and after six months, I offered him rent. He never accepted my money.
“He became a godfather to my son and he was a godfather to many other persons in Baltimore too, “ said Mr. Anastasiades.
He added: “If you needed a truck, a ladder or tools, he would lend them to you. He would take you out to eat — he was so open-hearted.”
By 1975 Mr. Tserkis had acquired an old gas station and carryout, the Bay View, which sat on a triangular plot at Boston and Aliceanna streets.
In a 1985 article in The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Tserkis said he foresaw the redevelopment that would change the former industrial neighborhood. He said he acquired the property “before anyone else thought about Boston Street.”
His brothers joined him in building a seafood restaurant they named Captain James Landing. Construction began in 1984 and the brothers said they spent $800,000 to achieve their concept — a restaurant that assumed the shape of an ocean liner.
Its appearance often startled visitors.
“While it may not be seaworthy, the SS Captain James is a friendly-looking place. Made of stucco applied over concrete block, and wire mesh molded in the shape of a ship’s prow, the vessel could be a caricature of the Love Boat with oversized portholes,” said The Sun’s 1985 article. The restaurant had a “captain’s bridge clad in red cedar and colorful signal flags that spell out Captain James.”
Mr. Tserkis named the restaurant after the ship captain who brought him to the U.S.
“Step into Captain James' main dining room, and you may find yourself rocking gently with the motion of the waves, so real is the illusion,” said a 2000 Sun article. “The windows are large portholes, and the dining room is decorated with mounted fish and other nautical appointments. The waiters wear stewards' uniforms.”
The Rev. Michael Pastrikos, pastor of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, said, “When you’d go to the restaurant, Nick would be out on the corner watching the cars on his parking lot.”
Family members said Mr. Tserkis remained a modest man — he did not join country clubs or play golf — and often visited his family in Greece.
His family will receive friends from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk, 7110 Sollers Point Road. He will be buried in Greece at a later date.