Last spring, Angelo Sotiropoulos thought his life was over. Gorham House of Pizza was boarded up and he was diagnosed with cancer at age 63. But with generous support from the community and some time to rest, he is back on his feet and back in the kitchen, continuing his journey here in Maine.
Gorham House of Pizza reopened its doors this December, eight months to the day after it was shut down by a fire. With a renovated kitchen, a new look in the diner and school back in session, owner Angelo Sotiropoulos says he’s glad to be back in business.
“There’s definitely been an increase in business since we’ve been back,” said Sotiropoulos, “and everyone working here is giving a 110 percent effort. It’s amazing.”
Sotiropoulos is known locally for his busy pizza joint, but there’s more to this man than a delicious pie.
“Coming here to Gorham, Maine was my destiny,” said Sotiropoulos. “That’s the only way I know how to explain it.”
Sotiropoulos immigrated from Greece to the United States around 40 years ago, arriving in Massachusetts. Not knowing the country well or the local area, his goal was simply to make a paycheck. After a few months in the states, his brother suggested they move to Maine. Sotiropoulos’s reaction was that of many outside of New England –– “Where is Maine?”
Soon after, he relocated to Falmouth, Maine and began working at Falmouth House of Pizza. In 1980, he was approached to travel again, but this time it was just a short drive over to Gorham to look at the pizza place that everyone now knows as GHOP.
“I’ve worked eight in the morning to eleven at night almost every day since I’ve been here. For the first seven or eight months, business wasn’t exactly great. Sometimes there would just be no customers. But I kept on working just the same,” said Sotiropoulos.
The business lull didn’t last. GHOP soon became the local hotspot for Gorham residents and USM students.
“I’ve met so many wonderful people working here. Thousands of students and teachers from the university along with everyone who lives in the area,” said Sotiropoulos. “The mix of culture here is wonderful, and I love being a part of it.”
Business went well from there on out, until the night of the fire.
“I truly believed that it was the end of my life,” said Sotiropoulos.
The building had gone up in flames because of a small electrical fire started in the ceiling of a second floor apartment.
“I remember standing out in the street and watching my life go up in flames,” said Sotiropoulos. “I was in shock. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I remember my prayers being for the building not to be burned to the ground.”
His prayers were answered. The fire damage was surprisingly minimal. But the water damage done to the restaurant enough that he was forced to barricade the windows and close down his business.
Soon after, Sotiropoulos had another issue on his hands even more serious than his damaged business. About a week later, he was been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Fortunately, the cancer was at an early stage, and Sotiropoulos was able to be treated in the summer of 2012, at age 62.
“It was then that I began to think of the fire as a blessing. Because if I hadn’t had to close up shop, I would’ve been right back in there the morning after my diagnosis, working like I always have,” said Sotiropoulos. “I knew that it had happened for a reason.”
As Sotiropoulos recovered, he began to rebuild and renovate his building. The property was insured, and he was able to cover most of the costs of repair through Gorham Savings Bank. The re-opening was not the work of just Sotiropoulos, but of an entire community. People rallied around the owner and his employees, offering support and holding fundraisers.
“The money that was donated was a nice gesture, but even more so was the emotional support I received. The thoughts and prayers for my well-being from the people in the community were very heartfelt,” said Sotiropoulos.
Sotiropoulos is grateful for the support he received, and now he is working to set up a special Gorham Community Fund to help those in need.
Opening GHOP in December was an early Christmas present for Sotiropoulos. The diner has a new look, but he made sure that people knew they were still coming back to the same staff and environment. It’s still the same ole GHOP. It just has a new look.
“I’ve had an amazing journey here in Gorham. It’s like a dream come true. Like a movie, almost. I’m so thankful to the world, to everybody,” said Sotiropoulos. “There’s no better feeling than this. I came here 40 years ago, and I had no clue. I got no respect. But now here I am, with all the love and respect in the world.”