Labor of Love

She no longer puts in 18-hour shifts, but Maria Perdikis still works the grill at her restaurant, a Newport landmark for 35 years

The Original Newport Restaurant is celebrating 35 years in Delaware, but it can trace it origins to 1963 and Toronto, Canada. That’s when and where 17-year-old Maria Ricci, her mother and brother immigrated from Pisterzo, Italy. Her father had passed away 10 years prior, and Maria became the family breadwinner. She began working two jobs, as a dishwasher and a factory worker making lingerie, for a total of $7 a day.

Two years later, she married Sam Perdikis, a Greek immigrant. They soon had a daughter, Petula, and moved to the United States. Packing everything they had into their car, they moved in with Sam’s sister in Wilmington for two months. Sam eventually found work at the Hotel du Pont, while Maria stayed home to raise Petula. After a few years, she went to work at Strawbridge & Clothier at the Merchandise Mart in Wilmington, and they bought a home in Edgemoor Terrace.

Maria Perdikis says she is "blessed" to be where she is today.

Maria Perdikis says she is “blessed” to be where she is today. Photo Anthony Santoro

After 15 years in the U.S., they decided to sell the house and move back to Toronto to be with their families. But Sam struggled to find a job, they had to live in a small apartment, and within a year they moved back to the States in North Wilmington. That’s when a friend informed them about a little diner down the street from them that was for sale.

The couple sold their house and put their life savings into the restaurant, naming it The Newport Plaza Family Restaurant. Tragically, Sam passed away from a heart attack soon after, leaving Maria and her daughter, who was now in college, to run the restaurant by themselves. This meant that whenever employees backed out of working their shifts, Maria had to cover for them. She worked the grill, waited tables, and cleaned up after closing time.

“Sometimes,” Perdikis says, “Petula and I would be crying together, because we had to make it. I didn’t want to close.” Some days they both worked 16-18-hour shifts, even while Petula was taking a full course load at West Chester University. (She went on Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., for her masters in music performance.)

In 1994, when the lease came up for the diner, Perdikis decided she wanted to move down the street a quarter of a mile to 601 W. Newport Pike, where The Original Newport Restaurant stands today. The larger location enabled her to expand the restaurant and accommodate more customers, many of whom followed her from the old location. Among her customers are former Vice President Joe Biden, along with governors and other public officials. Singer Johnny Mathis has even stopped at the diner.

And no wonder. The restaurant has a solid reputation for tasty, ample and affordable (cash only, no credit cards) food. Breakfast is served all day, and includes the usual bacon and eggs and pancakes as well as a western omelet with salsa on the side. Chicken and dumplings is the diner’s most famous dish. Perdikis makes her own crab cakes with lump meat, chicken croquettes, rice pudding, and bread pudding. Cole slaw, potato salad and chili are other popular choices.

There is a family atmosphere at the restaurant, and that applies to the staff as well as the customers. Perdikis, a petite, shy woman with an Italian accent, prefers to be behind the grill, but she also loves to interact with her customers and be certain they are satisfied with the food and the service. She still has goals, including being named in the breakfast category on The Best of Delaware list, the annual awards bestowed by Delaware Today and its readers.

Reflecting on more than three decades in business and the life she has forged for herself, Maria Perdikis is grateful. She remains close to her daughter and her granddaughter, Luciana, 14, and her restaurant is thriving.

“I appreciate everything that my people did for me, my customers and my employees,” she says. “I appreciate America and what it did for me. I worked really, really hard to be where I stand, and I appreciate everything, because I didn’t have anything. I’m so blessed to be here today.”

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