EAST COUNTY — Jeanne Kambitsis knew it was love at first sight.
Maybe it was his boyish charm, thick Greek accent or something else altogether. But, as soon as Spiros Kambitsis walked into the Port Charlotte diner and sat down, Jeanne Kambitsis had no second thoughts.
“I got him some coffee,” says Jeanne Kambitsis, who was waiting tables. “I knew it was my match right there.”
At that first meeting, neither Jeanne nor Spiros knew they’d be working together or that their lives would take one complicated twist after another, in terms of their relationship.
But, now, as the couple celebrates their sixth year of marriage, they — quite literally — have put their love for one another on the menu, opening Chickadees Eatery in December. The restaurant’s name, itself, is a testimony of the couple’s love.
First and second chances
Jeanne Kambitsis, known for wearing brightly colored knee-high socks and jingle bells on her sneakers, started working in the restaurant industry as a teenager.
“I did nursing, but I always came back to this,” she says.
Spiros Kambitsis, whose Greek accent still lingers heavily at 61 years old, immigrated in 1969 to the United States from Greece. As the youngest of nine children, he began his career in the restaurant industry upon moving to New York.
Jeanne Kambitsis moved in 1982 to Florida from upstate New York. Spiros Kambitsis moved in 1990 to Florida.
The couple met that first time in 1994, at Stefano’s Restaurant in Port Charlotte. Neither knew they’d soon be working together at a new Stefano’s location — Jeanne Kambitsis as the restaurant manager and Spiros Kambitsis as the kitchen manager. Within months, the two had become a couple, although they kept their relationship secret.
“Back then, I was a wild child,” Jeanne Kambitsis says.
The relationship proved tumultuous, and, after several years together, the couple separated.
“We had a lot of things happen,” Jeanne Kambitsis says.
She was bitter and angry; things hadn’t been fully resolved when he moved out.
“But, God introduced himself to me,” she says, adding her life drastically changed.
And the next time she saw Spiros, nearly 13 years later, she loved him yet again.
“He walked into a place I was working (to eat),” she says. “My heart leapt. We gave each other a hug, but I was busy then. I gave him my number, but right after I did, my phone broke.”
She chuckles, remembering the irony. His number, along with all of her other contacts, was gone.
But, then, one day, after her phone was fixed, she noticed a missed call from an unknown number. Unsure of to whom it belonged, she called it back. Spiros Kambitsis answered.
It was Christmas Eve 2005.
“It was a love affair on the phone,” she says. “There were a lot of things we had to resolve. He couldn’t get away from me.”
She laughs again, hooking herself onto his arm.
The couple maintained a long-distance relationship for about eight months, before Spiros Kambitsis began driving 70 miles every Tuesday to visit Jeanne at work.
He told Jeanne Kambitsis about his upcoming vacation to Greece.
And, then, one afternoon, Jeanne Kambitsis knew the answer before the question came.
“He said, ‘I have a question to ask you,’” she says, jumping from her seat and clapping her hands together. “I knew (he was going to ask me to marry him).”
The answer: Yes, yes and yes, again.
Wedding of the century
The couple decided to marry in Greece. Spiros made the arrangments.
“I did something (traditional),” he says. “I arrived by donkey, and my wife came by boat.”
He smiles as his wife brings their wedding photos to the table.
“They called it the ‘wedding of the century,’” Jeanne Kambitsis says. “It was on Greek television.”
They wore cream and teal, in honor of Greece’s colors, and added in touches of red, white and blue for their American roots.
And, after the ceremony, Jeanne Kambitsis insisted they visit Greece’s Parthenon, which was nearby. Although not dressed for the hike, Spiros Kambitsis agreed.
And, as she videotaped the view, she became enthralled with the hundreds of small birds that flitted around them.
“I called them chickadees,” Jeanne Kambitsis says. “As I was taking pictures (of all the birds), I saw (Spiros’) feet, and I went, ‘Oh, there’s my little chickadee. He’s been my chickadee ever since.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
Since their wedding day Sept. 11, 2006, Jeanne and Spiros Kambitsis have lovingly called each other “chickadee,” a nickname that stuck following their wedding-day visit to the Parthenon in Greece. When the couple readied to open their new East County restaurant in the Twelve Oaks Plaza shopping center, picking a name suddenly became easy: Chickadees.
The restaurant opened Dec. 3, 2012. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new eatery took place Jan. 8.