It's a good thing cars weren't equipped with GPS in the late-1960s.
If they had been, Gus Tsichlas, recently immigrated from Greece at the time, might not have gotten lost on Route 8 and ended up in Stratford at Bucky's Market on Main Street. And he surely would not have opened Paradise Pizza Palace at that location on Feb. 11, 1969.
That's the "funny story" Andy Tsichlas tells about his father and the genesis of his iconic Stratford family restaurant. How Bucky's Market became Paradise Pizza Palace, however, Tsichlas is not entirely certain.
"Knowing my father, he had a knack for hard work and great ideas and he went for it," Tsichlas told me in the dining room of his Greek and Italian restaurant. "My father worked here every day from '69 until he passed five years ago."
Paradise Palace Pizza, known now as simply , opened 10 years before Tsichlas was born. Now 32, Tsichlas said he can't imagine having a life that doesn't center around the restaurant.
"This is what I eat, sleep, breathe," he said. "Being raised in the restaurant, we sort of don't know anything different."
Tsichlas and his three siblings have all grown up with Paradise Pizza acting as a home away from home. Everyone at one point has played the role of head chef. Tsichlas' proudest recipe: cheeseburger pizza.
"There's always some kind of system going on here but we're always willing to do anything," said Tsichlas, the youngest of the four siblings.
The system in place on the afternoon of our interview had Tsichlas' mother, "a jack of all trades," behind the cash register, and Tsichlas' sister attending to paperwork at a nearby dining room table.
"My father was adamant: you had to work hard and put out the best product at a reasonable price."
As required by law, Gus Tsichlas served in the Greek army. Before coming to Stratford, he joined family and friends in Canada, where he earned a living working at diners, according to his son. But his father's dream was to live in the United States, Tsichlas said, and the dream became a reality when he joined family in Waterbury, Conn.
A lot of the recipes are from pops, Tsichlas said, such as the lasagna and Greek salad, two of the more popular items on a constantly evolving menu. "We started off as a pizza, pasta and grinders place, then people wanted Chicken Marsala and other sauteed dishes."
Though pizza is still king at Paradise, today's menu features club sandwiches, fried seafood, burgers, steaks, mussels, and even soft tacos -- the newest item available at the bar, which was built about five years ago.
"We are famous for our meatball grinder," said Tsichlas, admitting that's his favorite. "We have our staple items that people love but we're always exploring."
For St. Patrick’s Day, Paradise Pizza rolled out a traditional Irish menu. Tsichlas said the place was packed for the holiday, and the next day a woman called in an order for a tray of Shepherd's Pie.
"No day's the same," he said. "There's always something going on: a new recipe, a new customer, a new face."