Coula Johnides, the youngest and last of the clan that opened the Old Stove Pub in 1969 and ran it for decades, died at her home near the restaurant in Sagaponack on March 15, 2018. She was 90.Ms. Johnides was the benefactor of the Johnides Family Cultural Center at the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons, donating $1.5 million for the limestone, granite and marble building that opened in 2013 on St. Andrews Road in Southampton.
Locally known as a tough businesswoman, she was celebrated for her wit and banter as the hostess and manager of the restaurant, according to Father Alex Karloutsos of the church in Shinnecock Hills. She leased it to new operators about six years ago but retained ownership of the property, which Father Karloutsos said originally covered about 16 acres.
After it was praised by New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne, the Old Stove Pub in its heyday drew celebrities including Barbara Walters, Hugh L. Carey, Sidney Lumet, George Plimpton, Peter Maas, Elia Kazan, Gloria Vanderbilt, Truman Capote, Billy Joel, Calvin Klein, Mario Puzo and Joseph Heller, according to a 1992 Times obituary for Ms. Johnides’s mother.
“Barbara Walters, George Stephanopoulos, I mean they all would come in there because they all enjoyed the steak and Coula’s personality,” said Father Karloutsos.
“But for Coula,” he added, “the most important person was the one that would come in consistently, enjoy the food, pay the check and come back again. She never got caught up in celebrity even though she became somewhat of a celebrity herself because, you know, she was a very witty woman and she liked to go back and forth, tit for tat.”
He likened her to the restaurant’s famous steaks: charred on the outside but tender on the inside, especially when it came to children and older people. “Most people didn’t see that,” he said. “To most people, they’d see the woman was very tough running the place.”
That’s how her neighbor, Sagaponack farmer Ken Schwenk, remembered her. About 25 years ago, he advised someone who wanted to harvest cedar trees from the Johnides property “to make sure to have a clear exit” path for an escape before asking Ms. Johnides.
Formerly the site of Flynn’s Inn, and before that the 19th Hole, the restaurant got its new name when the Johnides family took an old stove they had found in the building and set it outside near the roadside “so they wouldn’t have to pay for taking it to the dump,” Mr. Schwenk said. The Town of Southampton eventually ordered its removal, he recalled.
Because it was considered a landmark, the restaurant’s roadside sign was allowed to remain when the Village of Sagaponack was incorporated in 2005 even though the village’s new zoning code otherwise banned neon signs, according to Deputy Mayor Lee Foster.
But later, with the restaurant apparently defunct, the village looked into acquiring the centuries-old building as a Village Hall. But Coula “showed me that they had a hunk of meat still in the freezer” to prove the restaurant had not been legally abandoned, Ms. Foster said.
Ms. Johnides’s ancestors had come to the United States in the early 20th century from the Greek island of Limnos, near Turkey, fleeing in the Ottoman genocide of Armenians and Greeks, according to Father Karloutsos.
Ms. Johnides, who was born July 8, 1927, came to the Hamptons from Boston in the late 1960s with her mother, Vasiliki, known as Bessie; her two brothers, Stephen, and Constantine, who was known as Gus; and her sister, Helen, Father Karloutsos said. Helen was the first sibling to die, followed by Gus in 1999 and Stephen in 2002. None of the siblings married.
Father Alex said he guessed their father John’s death probably precipitated the family move to the area, where a number of Greek families—such as the Stavropouloses and the Parashes on the South Fork—had been operating restaurants for decades.
John had been a tailor in Boston, who always made sure his children were the best dressed in the neighborhood, according to what Coula Johnides told Father Karloutsos. A 1992 New York Times obituary for Bessie Johnides described John as having been involved in Boston real estate. Ms. Johnides adored her father and especially her mother, who she tearfully recalled made her walk to avoid becoming lame after a bout of rheumatic fever in childhood, Father Karloutsos said.
When the Johnides Family Cultural Center opened in January 2013, Ms. Johnides was on hand for the ribbon cutting. “In honor and in memory of my family,” she said at the ceremony, “I would like to dedicate the Johnides Family Cultural Center to serve our church, and community. My family foundation will also sponsor programs to help the young and the old … I hope the Center will serve as a beacon of faith and learning, and Hellenic culture. God bless you all.”
Father Karloutsos described the Johnideses as “a wonderful family. We are honored that they honored the church and the church will honor their gift, their legacy, by preserving it and being very grateful for what they’ve done and for future generations in our community. It was an amazing gift.”
Dr. Peter Michalos, a Southampton ophthalmologist and family friend, promised Ms. Johnides’ brother Stephen on his deathbed that he would take care of her.
“Coula was a strong and tough businesswoman and handled all her affairs until this past August, when she had a stroke,” Dr. Michalos wrote in a text message. “She was fun, witty, and her greatest joy was going to church every Sunday and talking to the young and old.”
“She became a cheerful giver in her old age and died peacefully in her sleep with a big smile looking up to the sky,” he wrote. “She lived a good life and all her wishes and goals were accomplished.”
Ms. Johnides left no survivors. A viewing took place at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons on Sunday, March 18. A funeral service followed at the church on Monday, March 19, with burial at her family’s plot at the Edgewood Cemetery in Bridgehampton.