Nick Mouris, formerly Nicholas Mourtzakis, was born in Crete, Greece in 1920. At the tender age of 12, he left Crete to earn a living in Athens, selling produce in the open markets. World War II meant the loss of everything: two brothers killed by Nazis and another murdered by Greek communists. Destitute at the age of 31 in 1951, Nick, his wife, and two young children, Lola and Philip, sailed to America. Their $700 passage covered by his sponsor, and the farmer for whom he would work in Monet, Missouri. After a miserable ten months isolated in the Midwest far from any Greek-speaking people or Orthodox church, Mouris contacted a friend he had met on the ship, Father Theodosios Sideris, in Richmond, VA. Father Sideris sent him $300 for transportation to Richmond and a new, permanent home.
Although life in Richmond was not always easy, having a Greek community made it “home” for the lonely immigrants. Mouris started work at the old Bond Bakery. He supplemented his eight hours in the mixing room with another four selling produce from the back of a station wagon, relying on his knowledge gained as a teenager in Greece. An early customer, Julian’s Restaurant owner Peter Poli, later described Mouris as “He was hustling, just like everybody else. Nick was doing everything to make a living. He had two small children to raise. He worked 18 hours a day. They don’t make ‘em tough like that anymore.”
In 1958, Nicholas Mourtzakis became an American citizen… Nick Mouris. He remarried and had another son, Manuel. His second wife, Mary, became a partner in the business. After 12 years with the bakery, Mouris opened a small store on North Sixth Street with five or six bushels of produce. He soon added a truck to pick up produce in Baltimore. In 1967 he expanded to international products like cheeses and olive oil. He later moved to East Marshall Street due to city expansion. During all these years, Philip and Manuel helped with the business whenever they were out of school.
Several years later, Nick expanded to 400 W. Broad Street. There were some tough years, such as when his trusting nature set the business back by dealing with a shady contractor who bilked him for far more than originally quoted renovations. This major set-back also caused his son, Manuel, to leave college in his last year and enter the business full time. He took over the ordering, financials, and other things that due to Nick’s lack of formal education, “used to kill him,” according to his oldest son, Philip, a full-time school teacher and coach (who always helped at the store on weekends).
The sharp focus on authenticity and superior products is what draws customers to this small business from Williamsburg, Norfolk, Charlottesville and beyond. European and Middle Eastern immigrants, along with food connoisseurs, make the trip to purchase hard-to- find products from Lebanon, Turkey, Italy, Spain, and of course, Greece. In addition to members of these communities, the store also serves residential neighbors, area laborers, VCU students and downtown office workers. On many Saturdays, long-time Richmond resident, Henry Berling, can be found stocking up on supplies, and enjoying sandwiches with his sons and grandchildren, just like his father did decades ago when “Mr. Nick” was around. You might even find Dr. Nick Tarasidis, or handyman Michalis Pafras singing a greek melody and discussing politics, like the old-timers did!
Manuel remodeled in 2000 to maintain the “Mediterranean atmosphere” … from the arched doorways painted the color of the Aegean sea, to the large black and white diamond tiled floors, use of the old-fashioned deli paper and vats of almost any type of olives. An RTD reporter/customer once commented, “Although I’ve never been, I just know this place is alive with the music of Greece, (it’s) the real thing.”
In 2018, Nick's made their final move, from the W. Broad Street location to 2413 Westwood Avenue. Along with the move came a change in the business model. The new location sports a large warehouse, allowing the company to focus on their wholesale business of supplying local Greek and Mediterranean restaurants. Nick's still offers a selection of essentials in the back of the warehouse, to ensure that their 2nd and 3rd generations of loyal customers are still able to find a little piece of their home country!