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New restaurant dines on heritage

Ruediger | Leader Times
Gus Couknas and his son Costa hold a bowl of Greek salad at the family's Ford City resturant along Ford Street. The J.L. Costa's Resturant opened in November. Monday January 7, 2013 Louis B.

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By Mitch Fryer
Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

In the 1920s, Gus Couknas' Greek immigrant grandparents, who didn't speak any English, experienced the American dream when they opened up several restaurants in the New Kensington and Oakmont areas.

And there was plenty of Italian food on the table for Couknas growing up. His mother, Mary Ann Badura, of Ford City, is from an Italian family.

Counkas worked, too, as a chef in the deep south of the United States for a time.

His wife Maggie is from Poland.

Couknas has a unique culinary heritage and that is why he opened up a sandwich shop with a mix of Mediterranean and southern foods in Ford City last November.

J.L. Costa's Restaurant along Ford Street is making everyone in and around Ford City appreciate his style of cuisine.

“It all starts from my grandparents on my father's side,” said Couknas. “Obviously being from Greece it's the Mediterranean. My mother's side it's the Italian. They're neighbors and the food is fairly similar. Then I infused that with the southern style and Creole and came up with my own flavor.”

“That's kinda what we do here making things,” he said.

Couknas' father, George, got sick and died last year. It was George's dying wish for his son that made a restaurant owner out of Gus.

“He wanted me to pass on what I had learned from my grandmother,” said Couknas. “He wanted me to open something up on my own like she did.”

To keep the family restaurant tradition going, Couknas named J.L. Costa's after his three young sons, John, Luka and Costa.

The best-selling item on the menu as of now is the sloppy poindexter — shaved sirloin roast served with sauteed mushrooms and onions on thick Italian bread , Other dishes include Greek cheese or spinach pies layered with filo dough, Greek salad or Greek soup.

The restaurant does some catering. In March it will begin serving breakfasts and a Sunday brunch is planned.

“People have been asking for years to do something different like this in town,” said Couknas. “I'm thankful to all of Ford City.”

Mitch Fryer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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