Editor’s note: An occasional series on the people who have helped build Manteca as the city gets ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of incorporation this year.
Tony and Mrs. K’s restaurant owner Artemis Vourakis has spent most of her adult life as a legal secretary working for attorneys in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Stockton.
Artemis’ restaurant is alongside her brother Hercules’ Clear Drop Car Wash on East Yosemite Avenue at Cottage Avenue. She opens for the evenings and offers a special Sunday morning brunch.
She named the restaurant after her late parents, Anthony and Kostoula Vourakis, so they would be recognized by future Manteca generations since neither she nor her brother have had any children. The name of the restaurant refers to her mother by her first name “Kostula” that was little known in Greek culture referring to the wives as only Mrs. and their husband’s last name. By doing that, Artemis felt she was giving her mother her own unique identity.
Both her parents came from the same Greek island of Crete. Her dad came through Ellis Island after crossing the ocean in the steerage of a steam ship.
Artemis remarked, “There were no bathrooms – horrible – men and women housed together,” Artemis noted.
Her father bought a two story, six-bedroom house with 20 acres on Austin Road just south of Yosemite Avenue and Calla School. Four bedrooms were upstairs and two downstairs. Artemis was born at a Stockton hospital in 1948 followed by her brother Hercules. It was in that same house years earlier that Effie Murphy was born – the mother of the late Bulletin publisher George Murphy.
Tony planted his crops including an olive orchard, grapes and 10 acres in almonds before the City of Manteca was incorporated in 1918. The state took five acres of his choice property for Highway 120 through eminent domain after he had offered them an acre on Austin Road cost free, she said. With the money they paid for the property he purchased the corner piece on the northeast corner of Yosemite and Cottage that now houses her restaurant and her brother’s car wash.
The Vourakis farm was a one-man operation, she recalled. Her dad would truck his produce into Stockton. Franzia winery would take his grapes and every Christmas the Franzia Brothers would deliver bottles of wine to the growers including her dad.
Because of the strict culture of the old country, they didn’t have any contact with non-Greeks either adults or children in the community. She and her brother attended Calla School next door and she remembers not being able to speak a word of English when she first entered a classroom.
“Dad went to the principal, Lorraine O’Brien, and asked if I could come in at the age of 5 and pick up on some English so that I wouldn’t be held back the following year,” she remembers. “I would go to school in the morning and at noon go home crying. I didn’t understand the language and got kicked around and stepped on with no idea what anyone was telling me. When I started in the first grade I was pretty much on top of it.”
Artemis said when she got to high school she was really shy but more involved in her studies. Being the only girl in the family she was not allowed to go to football or basketball games or even to dances and generally socialize – only being allowed to go to Greek parties at their church.
“It was different for my brother, he got to go more places than I did,” she said.
There was an older Greek boy she met who lived down the street. They would be friends for life. His names was Ted Poulos who would become a pharmacist and later own The Manteca Drug Store.
When she graduated from the eighth grade at Calla the total student count was only 13. She said many of the classrooms had several grades clustered together. She and her brother both graduated from Manteca High and she went on to Delta College and majored in Business. She found her first job with the Manteca Police Department through a Delta Program and was assigned to the Records Division.
While at Delta she would go over to the UOP campus at noon and work in the End Zone sandwich shop.
From the Manteca Police job, she went on to Duel Vocational Institute prison in Tracy where she also worked in their records department until she found a job with an attorney in Stockton.
“I did everything there because I was a one-girl office, “she said. “Working as a legal secretary in Stockton was how I began my career in law.”
Artemis was with the Stockton lawyer for four years and then took a trip to Greece to stay with family learning the ways of the Greek culture from her parents’ homeland.
“I always felt that I was Greek until I went to Greece and found out I was an American,” she chuckled. “After that I returned to Manteca and found a job with another attorney in Stockton.”
In 1978 Artemis moved to Las Vegas where she took a position with another attorney as a legal secretary and was there for nearly nine years. With a return to Manteca for some six months she was off again – this time to Chicago to visit a cousin getting a job in the downtown there.
“I called my mom and told her I had gotten a job,” with her response, “You’re going from paradise to hell.”
Artemis said her mother knew just how cold it got in the Windy City.
Artemis was in Chicago for almost 15 years doing legal secretary work. She was then offered a position with AKF Development in Manteca, having known the Greek principals in the firm most of her life while Mike Atherton, Bill Fillios and Bing Kirk knew her work history and her ethics. She would run their office in Manteca for almost 10 years.
In the shadow of her parents’ training she was always an independent person – learning quickly she couldn’t always depend on others to do what she saw needed to be done.
“I chose making my own way,” she said, “and never got married.”
“It was from AFK to Tony and Mrs. K’s five years ago in May,” she said of the restaurant opening.
The restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday from 3 until 9 p.m. and on Sundays from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. with many stopping by for breakfast after going to church.
A special dinner menu on Friday and Saturday features salmon and shrimp scampi.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.