From shepherd to restaurant owner

24 September 2009
Article courtesy of North Norfolk News - In her latest Face to Face interview, Karen Bethell talks to East Runton restaurant owner Panayis Yiasimi, who, as the father of well-known local singing group the Constantia Brothers, is used to life in the limelight.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to East Runton restaurant owner Panayis Yiasimi, who, as the father of well-known local singing group the Constantia Brothers, is used to life in the limelight. But, while his sons enjoy being centre stage, Panayis prefers to stay in the background doing what he does best - cooking for his customers.

Born to a poor family in a tiny village in Northern Cyprus, Panayis, who is known to family and friends as Peter, spent his early childhood helping his father - a shepherd - tend his sheep.

At the age of 13, he went to work in the orange groves in the nearby town of Famagusta and spent the following two-and-a-half years living with a cousin in a wooden house surrounded by fruit trees.

After returning to live in his home village, in 1956 Panayis was sent to London to collect his sister Maroula, who had travelled to the city to live with relatives a year previously.

But, attracted to the London life, he decided to stay and, after working in a leather factory - where he clocked up the claim to fame of machining the black leather jackets worn by The Beatles - he trained as a chef at an uncle's restaurant.

He married Stella - who comes from a neighbouring village in Cyprus - in 1960 and, six years later, the couple moved to Great Yarmouth, where Panayis and 3 relatives opened a restaurant serving up international cuisine.

While his uncles continued to run the restaurant, Panayis decided to return to London, and spent the 1970s running a large leather clothing factory in the East End.

After Stella's brother, who owned the Acropolis restaurant in Norwich, suggested they move to Norfolk, in 1980 the couple bought the Constantia Cottage - then a 35-seater - and settled in East Runton with daughter Maria and sons Andy, Dino, Yaz and Sortiris.

The restaurant has since become one of the most popular in the area, serving up an unrivalled combination of Panayis's speciality dishes and his sons' own brand of Greek music.

Now expanded to seat 100, the Constantia Cottage regularly hosts gala music nights, when customers are treated to delicious dishes ranging from lamb kleftico to seafood Cyprus.

When not cooking for his customers, Panayis enjoys spending time with his family, including his 8 grandchildren. His Greek Orthodox religion is a big part of his life, and he and his family travel to a monastery in Essex most Sundays, also attending a Norwich church, where Panayis regularly performs religious chants.

He also recently made his first foray into the world of popular music - recording a CD of a self-penned song dedicated to his youngest grandson.

What is the best thing about your job?

The cooking, working with my family, the customers, the village and the wonderful life here.
And the worst?

Nothing. As long as my family is alright and they have their health, then I'm happy.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

My church in Norwich.

What makes you angry?

Minor things sometimes upset me, but it is only for a few seconds and then it's gone. Life can never run smoothly, but I think we sometimes create problems ourselves. Life is there to enjoy and it is up to us to enjoy it.

What is the one thing you would change about north Norfolk?

Nothing. Everything is lovely!

What is the one thing you would change about yourself?

I'd be young again and remarry my wonderful wife!

Who or what is the love of your life?

My wife Stella and my family.

Whom do you most admire?

Again, my wife - she is me and I am her. We don't always agree, but if we have a problem we find a solution and, now I know just what a wonderful person she is, I love her more than ever - she is gold!

What is your greatest achievement?

Having 5 lovely children and 8 wonderful grandchildren -I hope to have even more!

And you proudest moment?

Getting married.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

When I first came to London, I did have some fun, but I always had my uncle to guide me.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

Book: The Bible, film: any old religious film such as Spartacus, TV programme: they are not on TV any more, but I love all the old comedians like Norman Wisdom, Abbott and Costello and Jerry Lewis.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a friend.
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