Broomall, PA – How many famous people have you ever had a meal with? For three decades, from the 1960’s through the 1980’s, in Philadelphia, Jerry Kahrilas perhaps met and had dinner with more of them than anyone else. President Ford, Joey Bishop, Grace Kelly, just to name a few, all shook his hand and had dinner with Jerry. Well, not exactly with him. Let’s just say they shared a few thoughts and maybe a joke or two over a meal.
If you were visiting Philadelphia in the mid-20th Century, the Philadelphia Sheraton Hotel on 17th and JFK Blvd. was not only the hot place to stay, but a place to see and been seen. All the stars, famous people, and dignitaries stayed at the Sheraton. Arguably, you couldn’t get a finer room or a better dinner in Philly. At least, that’s what Jerry says. Confident and cool, when Jerry gives you the skinny on things, you better believe it. If you walked into the dining facilities of the famed hotel, Director of Catering Services Jerry Kahrilas greeted you and led you to your table. With a swirling smile and wavy black hair, he was jake, the epitome of cool. His smooth and confident baritone voice put you at ease while he told you a joke. All this, wrapped up inside a friendly Greek immigrant, who had arrived to America a little over a decade before.
Jerry arrived in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1949, from a small village named Vathi, on the Island of Ithaki. At 17, he left his homeland of Greece, like most immigrants, looking for a place out of poverty and to flee the ravages of war on his Island. Relatives helped him get into the United States and before you knew it, Jerry was bouncing between Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia. He worked at some of the finest hotels in the country. He may not have been a Rat Pack member, but he was living life to its fullest, working and playing with equal enthusiasm. He really loved Chicago. It was filled with Greeks and the city was exciting. But, when the work shifted, it was time to go.
The seasonal work in the food business and better opportunities kept him hustling and bouncing from city to city. After meeting his future wife, Irene, in Atlantic City at Greek event, he decided it was time to start a family. He settled into the heart of the old Philadelphia Greek community back in the late 50’s, around 12th and Fitzwater. There, the Greek Orthodox priest, Father Makrides, from Annunciation/Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church (Philadelphia’s first Greek Orthodox church/6th oldest in America) performed his wedding ceremony to his wife. He comments, “The strange thing is, I wasn’t even wed in the church. We did it at the home of a relative.” He never quite figured out why or how that happened, but Jerry’s still happily married today living in Broomall, Pennsylvania, with his wife Irene. He’s been part of three parishes these 64 years, Evangelismos, St. Demetrios in Upper Darby, and currently at St. Luke’s in Retired from the food business, he says, he feels lucky to have had the life he lived and the experiences. He spends time at his local parish where he mixes it up with his buddies that play tavli during the week. “I’ve been a member of the AHEPA for 50 years,” he states with great pride.
He loves giving back to the Greek-American community through his chapter. You can catch him working the hot-dog stand at the annual AHEPA Thermopylae Chapter 445 track meet each year in Upper Darby. There, one time Director of Catering Services, Jerry Kahrilas, who use to serve the stars, now serves up the best hot dog of the day with that same smile and confident baritone voice, to a different group of stars – all the children competing in the track meet.