Constantinos ‘Gus’ George Chimpanis
Constantinos ‘Gus’ George Chimpanis was born March 9, 1891, in Vervena, Greece. He was one of seven children born to George Gus and Evuneya Chimpanis. Life for the Chimpanis Family in Greece was hard, and it was made even more difficult when Gus’s father, George left the family and moved to America. In his father’s absence, Gus was expected, as the eldest son, to help his mother make ends meet. The Chimpanis Family did what they could to survive but it was a challenge. These formative years of Gus’s youth nurtured the driving principles he would carry with him through his life: hard work and ‘strict economy’ (thriftiness).
Gus set out for America when he was 16 years old and arrived in Davenport, Iowa in the fall of 1907. Gus’s Uncle John Nopoulos gave him a job working in his business on Brady Street, a confectionary, fruit, and ice cream shop. Gus’s Uncle John changed his last name from Chimpanis to Nopoulos around the time Gus arrived in the United States and so Gus changed his as well.
When Gus arrived in Davenport, his uncle enrolled him in fourth grade so he could learn to speak English. His schooling was short-lived after getting into a fight with a boy who teased him. He tossed the bully to the ground and began pounding on him. That ended his school career in America. Gus continued to work with his uncle, and it wasn’t long before he became dissatisfied working for him. Gus thought his uncle spent too much on products and the two would argue. Uncle John thought Gus was trying to dictate how he should run his business and he would get angry. This arrangement was not working, and Gus longed to own something of his own.
In September of 1909, Gus and a friend, Nick Parros attended the Wilton Fair in Wilton, Iowa, which was one of the best-attended fairs in Iowa at the time. While exploring the town of Wilton, they noticed a ‘For Rent’ sign in the window of a building on Cedar Street. The two peered in the windows and discovered a Tufts soda fountain and all the necessary equipment to operate a confectionary still intact! They made an inquiry about renting the space and on June 10, 1910, their dream of owning something for themselves became a reality when they opened the Candy Kitchen. In 1910, Gus Nopoulos was 19 years old. As for the Parros-Nopoulos partnership, it ended about 1913 when Gus purchased the building for $825. After Gus purchased the building, they continued in business together but their personalities conflicted, and eventually, the two parted ways leaving Gus the sole owner of the Candy Kitchen.
Gus was married to a Wilton girl, Frankie Mildred Hudler on March 26, 1918, and to this union two sons, Leo and George were born. The whole family was involved in operating the Candy Kitchen which was open seven days a week. Even after Nopoulos’ son, George became the owner of the shop in 1946, Gus could be found behind the counter working every day, dressed in his white jacket and signature bow tie until he was 92 years old.
In 1975, CBS television aired a brief Father’s Day story from the Candy Kitchen where the Nopoulos Family had gathered to honor Gus. Bob Flaw of CBS television described Gus’s motto for prosperity as never having changed: “quality, service, price and a certain attitude [friendly]”. Gus said at the time, “I didn’t know the word ‘say no.’ Didn’t make a bit of difference. Thousand dollars or a penny, they get the same service, the same attitude I had.”
Gus worked hard and became very successful, not only at running the Candy Kitchen but as an investor and landowner. His successes allowed him in later years to be philanthropic. He funded scholarships at the Wilton High School, made substantial contributions to the University of Iowa, and made other donations to local groups, individuals, and churches.
Gus witnessed the Candy Kitchen become a favorite place for kids and adults to frequent whether, after school, work, or as a family on Wednesday and Saturday nights during the downtown band concerts. Babies became teenagers, teenagers became parents, parents became grandparents… Each subsequent generation continued the tradition of cherry Cokes and grilled combo sandwiches at the Candy Kitchen. Today, folks still come to experience the Candy Kitchen which owes its success to Gus’s commitment to making a shuttered soda fountain and confectionary a Wilton tradition!
Gus died at the University of Iowa Hospitals on Monday, July 4, 1983. He was 92 years old. Gus often told his family, if anything happened to him, the Candy Kitchen should remain open. Per his request, the day of his funeral the Candy Kitchen opened early as usual for the coffee crew at 7 am, and then they closed just four hours to accommodate the funeral and burial. Gus would not have approved, but out of respect for his hard work and dedication, it was allowed, however, the Candy Kitchen was back in business by 3 pm until closing. Gus would have expected nothing less!
From humble Greek immigrant in a strange land, to successful business owner and entrepreneur, Gus Nopoulos’s life and career is a shining example of the American Dream!