Chocolate maven's cheer belied wartime exploits
Having spied on the Germans in Greece during World War II, Gus Zotis spent four years in a concentration camp in Italy before he escaped from a train headed to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
He eventually made his way to the Pittsburgh area, where he owned the 26-store chain, Belmar Candies, and became the king of chocolate.
“He just loved chocolate. He would touch you with his hands, and they were like silk because his hands were always in the chocolate,” said his daughter, Cindy Pyzdrowski of Penn Township in Butler County.
Constantin J. “Gus” Zotis, formerly of Upper St. Clair, died Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Penn Township. He was 89.
He was born in Greece to John and Xanthi Zotis. His father died when he was 3, and he helped support the family by baking in a pastry store.
When he was 16, German soldiers kidnapped and detained him for giving Greek rebels the position of Germans. The Royal Air Force rescued him after he jumped the train in Italy. He became a navigator for the Royal Air Force on bombing runs in Europe.
After the war, he headed for Brazil but had to escape a sinking ship by swimming through an underwater window. He decided to go the United States instead, where he worked in the candy department of Gimbel's, Downtown, for three or four years. He then joined Belmar Candies, soon becoming owner and operating it for more than 40 years.
“He used pure butter, pure vanilla, pure everything. He wanted his customers to have the top of the line,” said Pyzdrowski, who began working for the company at 3 and continued through her youth.
In April 1948, Mr. Zotis became engaged, sight unseen, to the former Bessie Troianos. They were married that July.
“He didn't do anything without my mother,” Pyzdrowski said. “Nobody could step in front, behind or in between. It was my mother and him. She was his prize.”
Mr. Zotis' son-in-law, John Pyzdrowski remembered him as a man with a frequent smile who savored his ouzo — a Greek drink — and teased those around him.
“He'd love to rib you with a funny comment, a little poke in the side, and when I teased him back, he took it like a champ,” Pyzdrowski said.
In addition to his daughter and son-in law, Mr. Zotis is survived by his wife; sons, John of Penn Township, Dean of Mt. Lebanon and Nick of Upper St. Clair; 12 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.
Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in Beinhauers, 2630 W. Liberty Ave., Dormont, where a Trisagion service will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Another visitation will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday until the funeral liturgy at 11 a.m. in Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, 123 Gilkeson Road. Entombment will follow in Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.
Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org.