Rodoulla Loizides, wife for 55 years of restaurateur George Loizides, died early Monday morning, Oct. 21, just six days after her husband also died. She was 77.
Rodoulla Loizides, also known as Mama Rodou and Dora, was the matriarch of George’s Greek Cafe, which began in downtown Long Beach and has since spread elsewhere. While her husband, who died Oct. 15, was the founder and public face of the restaurant, Loizides was responsible for many of its great Greek dishes.
Loizides had been on oxygen for a few years because of lung problems. She was taken to St. Mary Medical Center on Sunday and placed in the intensive care unit, said Jessi Smith, director of operations for the family owned restaurants. She died about 1:15 a.m. Monday surrounded by her family, Smith added.
“She literally died of a broken heart,” Smith said.
The death of the iconic restaurant’s matriarch, just days after her husband, has shaken the community.
“This is so sad,” Mayor Robert Garcia said. “The entire city is in mourning for the Loizides family. This is an unbelievable loss.”
Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, said George and Rodoulla Loizides did everything together as a team.
“They were inseparable, a wonderful couple,” he said. “They are a great loss to the city.”
Restaurateur John Morris, a close friend, said George and Rodoulla Loizides lived a great love story.
“They were the sweetest couple I have ever met,” said Morris, who owned restaurants on Pine Avenue, near George’s Greek Cafe, before moving to the Boathouse on the Bay on the city’s east side.
Nicky Loizides Clair, the only daughter of the Loizideses, said she was at peace because her mother “is where she wants to be, with my father.”
On Sunday, Clair said, her mother told her — while at St. Mary’s — that she was ready to go.
“I’m finished here,” Clair recalled her mom saying. “I’m ready to be with my Georgie.”
Last week, just after George Loizides died, Rodoulla Loizides told her daughter, “I’m not going to survive much longer past my husband, not because I’m sick but because I’m losing the man I love.”
Rodoulla Panayides was born Sept. 29, 1942, in Kathikas, a small Greek village on the island of Cyprus; her first name means rose in Greek. She and George Loizides, who was seven years older, were next-door neighbors.
She was 17 when George Loizides asked her to marry him, Clair said, but her parents told them no — saying she was too young.
But two years later, on May 17, 1964, they wed in Bulawayo, a city in what is now called Zimbabwe, previously known as Rhodesia.
“They literally lived in the middle of a jungle,” Clair said. “They could hear lions clawing on their house. My father loved that lifestyle. He loved big-game hunting.”
George and Rodoullo Loizides had three children: Jimmy, born in 1965; Rip, born in 1966; and Nicky, born in 1969. They had moved from the jungle back to Bulewayo, but George’s job in a general store was 200 miles away.
“Those were extremely hard times for my mother raising three children,” Clair said.
When civil turmoil engulfed Zimbabwe, the government confiscated the Loizides’ property, leaving them with $500 in cash. George and Rodoullo Loizides took their children — ages 15, 14 and 10 — and immigrated to the United States, finally settling in Long Beach.
George took up different low-paying jobs to make ends meet. Rodoullo Loizides, a great cook, started taking night classes in English at Wilson High School and working in the Wilson cafeteria as a cook. She had that job for 30 years.
These were difficult years for the Loizides family, Clair said,
“But my mother and father always said,” Clair recalled, “if we worked hard as a family, we would survive and be successful.”
Their fortunes started turning around when the family opened George’s Greek Deli on Pine Avenue, near Third Street. Rodoulla Loizides and Jimmy Loizides, the eldest son, did all the cooking. Clair helped wherever she could.
George Loizides, meanwhile, began his legendary career as the “Smiling Greeter of Pine Avenue.”
The business grew and, in 2008, they moved the restaurant to 135 Pine Ave., and renamed it George’s Greek Cafe. They eventually opened other restaurants, Long Beach’s Belmont Shore and Lakewood.
Many of the Greek dishes — spanakopites, baklava, pastitsio, dolmathes and moussaka — came from recipes supplied by Mama Rodou.
“My mother was only 5-foot, 2-(inches), but she was such a force when it came to the kitchen and cooking dishes for customers,” Clair said. “She ruled the kitchen staff with an iron fist. The kitchen and the food had to be spotless. I think the staff feared her more than the Health Department.”
Jimmy Loizides said his mother was his inspiration in cooking and keeping the family together.
“She was a rock in everything we did,” he said. “She held everything together.”
Clair agreed with, saying their mom was “the backbone of the family.
“She loved all of us so much,” she said. “When my brother, Rip, got very ill a few years ago, she prayed to God, ‘Save my son’s life and take mine.’”
In a way, Clair said, it was fitting that her parents would die so close in time to each other.
“They had a great, great marriage,” Clair said. “They loved each other so much. They lived for each other. They died loving each other. I’m happy they are together again.”
A private funeral service — originally scheduled just for George Loizides on Tuesday, Oct. 22 — will now be for both of them and is scheduled for Oct. 28. A public “celebration of life” for both will be held Nov. 3 at George’s Greek Cafe, 135 Pine Ave.
Rodoulla Loizides is survived by her children, Jimmy and Rip Loizides, and Nicky Loizides Clair; and five grandchildren, George and Marshall Loizides, Lauren Loizides, and Dori and Gia Clair.