While the owner of Gas Lighter Restaurant wonders about her future, she feels a little hope that her business can stay right where it is. 

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 03-21-2023 8:01 PM

Hold the phone. Don’t count Soula Maloutas and her popular downtown restaurant out just yet.

She thinks that, perhaps, no news is good news.

Maloutas, one of many unknown stars in the universal book known as Reaching the American Dream, is hopeful that she can remain at 204 North Main Street, home of her Gas Lighter Restaurant. A bank purchased the building two years ago, so Maloutas’s life remains in limbo for now.

However, she’s had a slight attitude adjustment. Her cautious optimism didn’t seem to exist when news of the sale first surfaced. You can feel it this time.

“I’m thinking now, ‘Let me stay, let me stay,’ ” Maloutas said last month. “Now I’m still hoping.”

Stay or not, her friend, J. A. Ver Hoeven, thought enough of Maloutas to add her to our list of Hometown Heroes. Wrote Ver Hoeven: “She built her business from the bottom up without staffs, investors, ad campaigns or corporate offices. She will never be seen on billboards or galas. No buildings will be named after her. Soula would have no interest in politics. She’s out there serving her community with hard work, affection and responsibility.”

Maloutas’s future near downtown was in jeopardy shortly after the sale was announced. That time, friends and loyal customers looked for space for a new Gas Lighter. Comments  from customers and even Maloutas herself rarely contained any real hope that the Gas Lighter could remain open. Not on North Main Street.

“It bothers me a lot,” Maloutas said then.

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Something was ending, and no one was happy about it. Now, though, she believes that the less she hears about it, the better chance she has of staying. Now 70, she is not ready to retire. “They’ve never told me anything,” Maloutas said. “I’m waiting.”

She’s been open for 46 years, building a loyal fan base featuring a wide spectrum of personalities, from rowdy adult softball players to robotic, waiving politicians running for president.

This, of course, has been a long time coming. We all know the story. The immigrant story. No money. No English. No clue. That was 1971.  Maloutas came with her husband, who began working at the Gas Lighter’s predecessor, Mamos Market, where he washed dishes for several years.

The couple bought the restaurant in 1977 and changed the name to the Gas lighter. Maloutas’s husband had been fighting a long illness before he passed away in 2000.

That left Maloutas on her own.

“I honestly did not know if I was going to make it,” Maloutas said.

But you don’t leave home at age 20 and travel thousands of miles to throw yourself into culture shock unless there’s a little backbone involved. Maloutas had it.

Business remained good. She added a Greek portion to her already very-American choices. You could order a Texas burger or Greek Souvlaki .

One thing you can’t order from Maloutas is a review of some of the altruistic endeavors she’s known for. Like many of our Hometown Heroes, she’s not comfortable relaying reasons why her friend nominated her.

Maloutas opens her restaurant to homeless people, giving them food and shelter, but she wanted to make sure she did not seem like a pushover.

“If they cause trouble,” she said, “I tell them to get out.”

While Maloutas stayed humble and never wanted her kindness to surface publicly, Ver Hoeven was eager to take the job.

“Combine 50 years of business savvy with an almost stealth Volunteer mindset,” Ver Hoeven wrote to the Monitor. “Contributing to the needy, the addicted, the hungry, the jobless, comfort, friendship and respect. Plus, add support for local teams, hanging posters for events, contributions to church and on and on.”

Maloutas seemed more comfortable talking about the American Dream. She’s in that book.

“So far I think I’ve proved myself,” Maloutas said. “I am still in business there. I will stay as long as they want me to stay.”

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