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How a Lost Man Found Paradise Pizza in Stratford

More than 40 years ago, a Greek man got lost on Route 8 and wound up in Stratford.

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."

Hal Baird March 29, 2012 at 10:43 AM
My wife and I have been eating at Paradise Pizza since we were married almost 36 years ago. I can honestly say we've never had a bad meal there and it's a nice touch that the family calls you by name when you stop by. Usually we end up taking some food home because the portions are so generous and the prices are reasonable.
Kevin Stagg March 29, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Paradise Pizza IS Stratford! But it's more than just the food--it's Andy, his siblings, his mom (Mrs. Tsichlas makes AMAZING Greek salad dressing!), the wait staff, the bartenders and the busboys. The friendly atmosphere makes the food even better!
Kathleen Banville March 29, 2012 at 12:30 PM
I clearly remember when Paradise Pizza Palace rolled into town. The kitchen & dining area was tiny and to see what it has grown into is just amazing. Every time I went in there, Gus and his wife were both there, until Gus's death. It seems like yesterday that Mrs. Tsichlas was running around the kitchen and dining area (Thank God it was small then) and was about 8 months pregnant with their 4th child. My 2 siblings and I would ride our bikes/or walked over to the Pizza place carrying just 2 or 3 dollars and came out with our bellies full with Pizza. The pizza is as good now as it was back in 1969. What always made me sad, is I never seen Mr. Tsichlas take a nice vacation away from the Palace ( I guess this is where he was happy). The restaurant was doing so well and sure they were making money, but it appears the money they made went in to their children future and right back into making the business bigger and better. WHAT A SUCCESS STORY!!!! CONGRADULATIONS
Jessica March 29, 2012 at 02:15 PM
I couldn't be more proud to be a part of this family tradition and legend. Paradise Pizza is certainly MY home away from home and always has been. I grew up eating and dining at paradise pizza and now, years later, I became a part of the Paradise Pizza family and couldn't be more happy. I am so proud of the Tsichlas Family and what they have done to make Paradise Pizza and the Green a Stratford staple and landmark.
george kandrak March 29, 2012 at 03:53 PM
paradise pizza have been a family staple in my family for years , they treat you like your a long lost family member. and the food is great , or we would not be there, if you want something not on the menu they will try to make it up .
Randy Blasier March 30, 2012 at 08:17 PM
My daughter sent me this article and it really brings back great memories for our family. We lived in Stratford about 20 years ago and I commuted into NYC everyday. On Friday evenings, my wife would load our three daughters into our mini van, pick me up at the train station and we would stop and Paradise Pizza for our favorite pizza and the fantastic greek salad. While we were in Stratford for only four years, Fridays at Paradise was a tradition for our family. We miss those days, and the friends we made there, and certainly miss Gus and Mrs. Tsichla's great food and wonderful service. Randy Blasier Minneapolis, MN
Danielle A. Elwood April 22, 2012 at 09:24 PM
They are amazing there...The oldest brother one night sat with us as we fed our three young children and told the older boys "If you finish your whole dinner you can go pick out your very own desserts on me!" It is the family atmosphere that keep us coming back...
Len Powell April 26, 2012 at 08:54 PM
The folks at PP made me and my wife Louise welcome the moment we ventured in the day we moved into the area. Nothing is to much trouble, it is the kind of place we have been looking for since we came to America. Thanks PP you guys are the best
Joseph velky January 14, 2014 at 01:49 AM
There is nothing more comforting when you can walk into a place and have the owner ask "how is your mom and dad doing". Paradise Pizza is my "Cheers". It really is like going home.

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