Greek community mourns death of restaurant shooting victim

Sunday, November 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:49 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

George Godas went to sleep Tuesday content and at peace with the world. By morning, his life had been turned upside down.

Godas, owner of George’s Pizza and Steak in Columbia, was at his restaurant Wednesday evening when police announced the arrest of two teens for the shooting death of his longtime friend, Komninos “Gus” Karellas.

Karellas was found on the floor of his Mexico, Mo., restaurant, G&D Steakhouse bleeding from a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Audrain Medical Center.

Lance Lee Berry and Quinton O’Neil Canton Jr., both 17, have each been charged with first-degree murder, robbery and two counts of armed criminal action.

Turning his back to a television newscast on the case, tears well in Godas’ eyes. “He was like a brother,” he said, his voice breaking. “We are family here.”

News of Karellas’s death spread quickly. Calls poured into the family’s home, and a makeshift memorial in front of the steak house in Mexico bloomed with fresh flowers.

The Rev. Dean Panagos, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Greek Orthodox Church, where much of the mid-Missouri Greek community that Karellas was so much a part of the congregation, offered spiritual guidance.

“These are people that came together from Greece with nothing,” Panagos said in an interview. “Their kids play together; they go to each other’s weddings.”

Godas and Karellas emigrated from Greece in 1965. “We came here separate, but with the same dream,” Godas recalled.

Working side by side at the original G&D Steakhouse in Columbia, Karellas and Godas became best friends. They raised their families together, and their high spirits and success inspired the growing Greek community in Columbia.

Godas and Karellas eventually scrapped together enough money and, with help from a local bank, opened Romano’s Pizza downtown. Success there led to Karellas opening the G&D Steakhouse in Mexico, which led to a flood of business opportunities for the Godas family.

Godas’ sister owns the G&D Steakhouse in south Columbia. His brother owns Dino’s Steak House on Paris Road. Another G&D in north Columbia is owned by Godas’ cousins Alex and Pano Terzopoulos, while another cousin owns Angelo’s on South Providence Road. Just down the road is Jimmy’s Family Steak House , which is run by Godas’s brother-in-law, Jimmy Aslanidis.

Godas said Karellas’ sense of humor helped the two friends get through some difficult times. Godas recalled that Karellas always kept an empty cup, with a string concealed underneath it, at the cash register in his restaurant. When a customer ordered coffee, Karellas would hand them the rigged cup and pull the string, pretending to spill the drink on them.

“He never met (anybody) he didn’t like,” Godas said. “People came to the restaurant and left with a smiling face.”

Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, a member of St. Luke’s and an MU agricultural economics professor, said that in many ways, the Godas and Karellas family restaurants formed the core of the Greek community. The owners contributed generously to church activities and the construction of a cultural center next to the small church on Broadway.

The center has become the social heart of the community, said Kalaitzandonakes.

“Years ago, several Greek families decided they wanted to spend time together on Saturdays,” said. “This is how the center began.”

The center plays an important role in fostering pride in Greek heritage. Classes are held to teach children the language and customs.

“It’s a very young community. Most families have young children,” Kalaitzandonakes said. “The center is a way for people to connect with their country.”

The sudden and violent death of Gus Karellas has stunned the members of St. Luke’s. Godas recalled that he spoke with Karellas for nearly 20 minutes that day. That evening, Karellas’s sister had already left the restaurant, and Gus was dealing with the last of the dinner crowd. At 9:02 p.m., Mexico police responded to a call of a robbery at G&D, where they found Karellas on the kitchen floor with a gunshot wound to the face and neck.

Berry and Canton are being held without bond at the Audrain County jail. Canton’s mother, Donna M. Doyle, was also arrested and charged with four counts of tampering with physical evidence and two counts of hindering prosecution.

Audrain County prosecuting attorney Jason Lamb declined to comment on the details of the shooting. He said both teens have been arraigned and a public defender has been appointed. They are scheduled to appear in court at 3 p.m. Dec. 10, Lamb said.

Komninos “Gus” Karellas was buried Saturday morning at St Brendan’s Roman Catholic Church in Mexico.

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