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George Koukoulas, Thomas's diner owner, 53

George E. Koukoulas, 53, of North Bellmore, died

George E. Koukoulas, 53, of North Bellmore, died of apparent heart failure. Credit: Handout

George Koukoulas represented the distinct success of Thomas's Ham & Eggery just as much as the frittatas or house-made maple sausage.

Enter the Carle Place breakfast institution, and there he'd be: loud, jovial, sometimes gruff, but always authentic.

"Very animated. He always had this big smile and gawking laugh," said his brother and diner co-owner, Tom Koukoulas of Rockville Centre. "And he'd always tell you exactly what he thought."

George E. Koukoulas, 53, of North Bellmore, died Friday, apparently of heart failure. His brother's wife and daughter were about to take him for an angiogram when he collapsed.

Koukoulas and his brother took Thomas's over from their father in 1984, and made it one of Long Island's most popular and well-reviewed diners.

While Tom, 45, handled publicity and business, George was the constant behind the counter, chatting up patrons as they ordered their waffles or eggs. Single and without children, Koukoulas made the diner his life, often spending his days off there.

"He was genuine, and as real as they came," a regular customer, Gina Stratis, wrote on an online memorial page. "Greeting George in the morning always made me smile and roll my eyes at the same time, because you knew, even though he growled at you, he was happy to see you."

Tom Koukoulas said his brother, at nearly 400 pounds, was "an absolute character -- larger than life." At a local restaurant-supply store, employees stopped in their tracks, abandoning their forklifts to go shake his hand.

"I couldn't believe it. He was like Elvis in there," Tom Koukoulas said. "He knew everybody by name and they'd jump to help him out. It's because he treated everyone with respect."

Outside of the diner, George Koukoulas was a car buff, and a dedicated uncle to his brother's two daughters, Tom Koukoulas said. But it's behind the counter at Thomas's where his loss will be felt the most.

"It's really going to be something that's missing," Koukoulas said. "I don't know if we'll ever get over it."

George Koukoulas also is survived by his mother, Maria Koukoulas of Fort Lee, N.J., and siblings Marina Thomas of Greece and Anthony Koukoulas of Wantagh.

Visitation is Monday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Towers Funeral Home, 2681 Long Beach Rd., Oceanside. A funeral service is scheduled for Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. at Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Paul, 110 Cathedral Ave., Hempstead.

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