Restaurateur's personality added spice to meals
Few first-time customers of the Richland Restaurant would have guessed that its owner and head cook could speak Greek or quote Shakespeare; flew his single-propeller plane every chance he got; or could listen and tell stories with a skill and empathy that made politicians and ministers take notice.
Peter Kostas Jr. ran the Richland for almost 40 years on Route 8, across from the First Presbyterian Church of Bakerstown. The Rev. Richard A. Moreledge ate “many, many, many” meals there while living at the church's parsonage.
“He knew a lot of Shakespeare, a lot of poetry. You don't expect that of a chef or a cook,” said Moreledge. “You couldn't help but like Pete Kostas. He always greeted you warmly, he understood people and he understood human nature. You don't find many people like that.”
Moreledge will bury his old friend and favorite chef Tuesday. Mr. Kostas died Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, from pneumonia, in UPMC Passavant in McCandless. He was 91.
Mr. Kostas was “born into the restaurant business” in Homestead to a Greek immigrant family, according to his son, Peter Bruce Kostas, also of the Bakerstown section of Richland. He met his future wife, Margaret Cosentino, because she would regularly walk past his father's restaurant in Carnegie, Peter said.
He enlisted in the Marines during World War II and spent his early service stateside as a cook. According to family lore, Mr. Kostas' Greek cuisine was such a favorite among the officers that they gave him keys to a Jeep to go shopping for better ingredients whenever he liked. When his name initially didn't appear on a list for promotions, he angrily cooked subpar food for the officers until he was advanced two ranks at once.
He reached the rank of Sergeant 1st Class and was sent to Guadalcanal, where he became a crew chief, supervising maintenance of airplanes.
Returning from the war, Mr. Kostas bought what became the Richland Restaurant from his oldest brother, Angelo, and made it into a community institution with his excellent service, his sense of humor and his always-fresh food.
It also had a very busy catering operation, a banquet hall and two apartments where Mr. Kostas housed Greek relatives until they could start their own business.
“He didn't believe in frozen food, let me tell you,” Peter Kostas said. “I remember staying up all night breading chicken and parboiling eggs ... and Wholey's would deliver fresh fish every weekend.”
Mr. Kostas retired and sold his restaurant in the late 1970s. It eventually closed, and the church bought the building in 1985. Mr. Kostas flew a succession of small airplanes and became a captain in the Civil Air Patrol.
Mr. Kostas was predeceased by his wife, a son, Gary Kostas, and his siblings Angelo Kostas, George Kostas, Alice Kritko and Christ Kostas. In addition to his son, Peter, he is survived by his daughters, Sharyn Miller of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Lisa Cicin of Cary, N.C.; his sister, Helen Downs of Rehobeth Beach, Del.; and six grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in Schellhaas Funeral Home on Heckert Road in Bakerstown. Services will be held at 2 p.m. in the chapel at Jefferson Memorial Park in Jefferson Hills. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to VA Butler Healthcare.
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.