Louie Augustinos made best chili

Don McAlavy

A nybody living in Clovis from 1932 on to the 1970s knew Louie Augustinos as he owned one of the most popular eating establishments. His specialty — hot dogs.

He ran the Coney Island Cafe at 208 1/2 Main from 1932 to Dec. 19, 1973, when he died from a stroke. Augustinos was born in Capaholonia, Greece, in 1894 and came to America in 1920.

He could not speak, read, or write any English. He lived in New York State until 1925 when he joined his eldest brother Nick in Albuquerque.

Louie later had a sheep ranch with other Greeks in Colorado before moving to Magdalena, where he ran a hotel. He met Clara Corinne Hill, whose folks ranched and worked in the Kelly Mines. Louie married her in 1929 and moved to Clovis that same year.

Louie was one of three Greek families with food establishments in Clovis during this time.

Jim and John Rallis opened their Busy Bee Cafe in 1925. Their nephew Gus Delonas later became manager.

The Asimos family had the Bus Terminal Coffee Shop, at 117 E. Second. Tom Asimos came to Clovis, bought the restaurant and after WWII sent for his wife Katrina and his three children, Vivian, Bill, and Jim. Fresh seafood was their specialty. Tom Asimos (immigration officials simplified his true Greek name) died in 1949 and Katrina ran it from then on. She died in 1987.

In the front window of his cafe Louie had his grill and rolling rack for cooking hot dogs for everyone one passing on the sidewalk to see and smell. He had the best chili in town in my opinion.

His first son, Demetrie was around 10 years old when he started working at the Coney Island. The cafe was narrow, had some 15 stools in front of the counter and a few wooden booths toward the rear.

When you ordered a bowl of chili Louie would give the customer soda crackers, maybe six or eight and back then they were loose; not in a wrapper.

I would always ask for more crackers and Louie and I argued over how many I had already eaten. Grudgingly, he would put out more crackers.

I paid all of 25 cents for that bowl of chili. A glass of milk, a nickel. A mighty fine meal.

Clara helped run the Coney Island and she and Louie instilled in their four children that to succeed you must work hard, be honest and be frugal. Demetrie and I played chess at the Coney Island. I was older but he beat me as often as I beat him, but we could only play chess when Demetrie was on his short lunch break.

One day, around 1956, trouble appeared and Louie got up in arms. A cashier at Busy Bee Cafe, Bill Beck, sold clothing in his spare time and had sold Louie several shirts. According to Louie’s daughter Teresa, “they were rotten, falling apart!”

Well, Louie demanded that Bill give him back his money and Bill refused. On Sundays, after dinner, Louie would treat Demetrie and Anglo, and sometimes even Tracia and 5-year-old Teresa to a movie at the State Theatre.

One Sunday Louie and Bill Beck ran into each other in front of Roden-Smith Drug. A fight ensued with Bill knocking Louie down. Bill kicked Louie while he was down and one kick hit him in the eye. Dr. V. Scott Johnson had to sew up the eye at the hospital.

“My Dad,” said Demetrie, “vowed revenge on Bill and tried to sue him but Bill was impecunious and judgment proof!” Louie had a .32 Colt automatic and had a license to carry it, and at one time was a deputy sheriff.

One day Louie met Bill and he threatened him. Bill ran inside the Busy Bee. Louie figured he was going for a gun and followed him in and started firing until he shot Bill in the knee. Bill dropped to the floor and cried for mercy.

Bill hired a lawyer and a trial was convened in which Louie was found innocent, and was released on grounds of self-defense. Bill Beck was later killed by his nephew in a fight.

After Louie died, his wife Clara closed the business and went to live with Teresa and Demetrie in Virginia.

She died in 1996 at the age of 90.