TARPON SPRINGS — Renee Salivaras, for whom family meant everything, treated employees and regulars at her restaurant like sons, daughters and cousins.
She and her husband, Andy, who opened Mykonos 17 years ago on Dodecanese Boulevard, served dishes like fish soup, marinated octopus, and a bone-in lamb shank flavored with tomato and spices on a menu built around old-country Greece.
It didn't take long for the restaurant to become a Tarpon Springs landmark in the heart of the sponge docks whose history she worked to preserve.
"(Customers) would talk to my mother like they would talk to a good friend," said Sofia Zaronias, Mrs. Salivaras' daughter. "They told her things you just don't tell a proprietor."
Mrs. Salivaras, a founding member of the Sponge Docks Merchants Association and a subtle matriarch, died Monday. She was 65.
She worked on the advisory committee for the renovating the Sponge Docks in the mid 1990s, and fretted that incoming merchants might ruin the area's atmosphere by "Las Vegasing it up."
"She said, 'I hope we never see big neon signs and billboards,' " recalled former Mayor Anita Protos, a close friend. "That's not what the dock area is about. It's about the old-time sponging industry, the curio shops and the Greek restaurants."
Mrs. Salivaras grew up in Chicago, the daughter of a Greek immigrant who owned a drive-in restaurant. She and her husband, Andy, a native of Greece, married in the early 1980s and moved to Tampa. They opened a restaurant in downtown Tampa, Rockefeller's, then moved to Tarpon Springs in 1993 and opened Mykonos.
"Andy is certainly the creative mind and talent, but Renee kept her finger on everything with the businesses," said Karen Brayboy, a former city commissioner.
She stayed on top of the restaurant's chaos, working side by side with her husband. "If one left to run an errand, they kissed each other goodbye," said Zaronias, 29.
A breast cancer diagnosis four years ago seemed to inspire rather than deflate her. "She said, 'Well, that's okay. I'm no different than anybody else. I'm going to fight it,' " her daughter said.
Mrs. Salivaras had only one wish left: to see Sofia and Anthony Zaronias get married.
Mother and daughter shopped for months to find Mrs. Salivaras the right dress, a pearl color with embroidery and sequins, and a silk jacket. As Zaronias walked down the aisle in St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, she looked to her left to see her Mrs. Salivaras smiling in the first pew.
"I started crying," her daughter said. "My mother's smile was the kind of smile that left her face."
A standing-room-only crowd packed the same church Thursday for her funeral.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.