LEWISTON — For more than 40 years, the Lewiston-Auburn Greek Festival has brought a piece of Greece to the Twin Cities, offering Greek wine and dancing, a bazaar, baklava, and Greek entrees and desserts, among other offerings.

However, many of the Greek families responsible for organizing and volunteering at the inaugural festival in 1978 have roots in the area that extend back much further than 41 years.

The festival returns Sept. 5 to 7 at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church at 155 Hogan St., extending to a three-day festival after years of taking place on Friday and Saturday. We spoke with Greek families whose grandparents and great-grandparents immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century to see how Greek culture has shaped the Lewiston-Auburn area over the years.


According to a 1914 article in the Lewiston Evening Journal, Maine, at the turn of the century, had around 1,800 Greeks living within its borders. Lewiston accounted for 500 of them.

The article stated that many of the businesses on Lisbon and Lincoln streets were owned and operated by Greek immigrants, including coffee houses, grocery stores, bakeries, tailor shops, shoe-shining parlors, barber shops, and in the case of the Simones family, a hot dog stand made out of soda crates.


Jimmy Simones, who owns Simones’ Hot Dog Stand at 99 Chestnut St. with his wife, Linda, said that his grandfather, James, left Greece in 1908 from the Port of Piraeus at the age of 15 and spent the three-week, 4,921-mile journey in a cargo ship that eventually landed at Ellis Island.

“Some of his other relatives had already made the journey to (Lewiston),” Jimmy said. “He knew there was opportunity here, with all of the shops and mills.”

Jimmy and Linda Simones at their world famous hot dog stand in Lewiston recently. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

After settling here, James Simones hand-built the original Simones’ Hot Dog Stand at 98 Chestnut St., across the street from its current location, using wood from used Coca-Cola soda crates.

“The stand was enclosed, had four barstools and a takeout window, and my grandfather would sell the dogs to the folks on the sidewalk,” Jimmy said. “Five cents apiece, or six hot dogs for 25 cents. Back then, (workers) didn’t have these half hour or hour lunch breaks. They had to get something to eat, get it quick and get back to work. Hot dogs were affordable and they were quick.”

Simones’ Hot Dog Stand has increased the price of their hot dogs a bit since 1908, but the customer base has only grown with time.

Jack Clifford, a local attorney whose grandfather, Nikitas Kesaris, also immigrated from Greece to the United States in 1908, said that living in downtown Lewiston in the early-to-mid 20th century was “like growing up in the United Nations.”


“Here in Lewiston, everybody had at least one parent or grandparent who spoke English with a funny accent,” Clifford said with a laugh. “It wasn’t like that in Auburn. In Lewiston, you had Lithuanians, Italians, Jews, Latvians, the Chinese, Greeks, French-Canadian people all living near each other. It was pretty neat.”

Jack Clifford Sun Journal file photo

Clifford said his grandfather, 15 years old and unable to speak a lick of English, was sent by his father to the front of the now-defunct DeWitt Hotel on Pine Street to shine shoes but was quickly turned away by a doorman, who told him, “Only white boys can shine shoes here.”

Unhampered, Clifford said that his grandfather went across the street, where he shined shoes in front of the Lewiston Public Library.

Over time, Clifford’s grandfather and his brothers all started their own businesses, including restaurants, bowling alleys and pool halls, in downtown Lewiston and Auburn.

“That’s the way most Greek families were who came to this area: they started businesses,” Clifford said.

Christine Sirois of Auburn said that she shares the same grandparents as Jimmy Simones, but her father, Christo Simones, never got involved in Simones’ Hot Dog Stand the way Jimmy’s father did.


“I always wondered why,” Sirois said. “He knew how to make hot dogs. He had a portable steamer that he’d take down to Pettengill Park so he could sell hot dogs.”

Sirois said that her father chose to take a job with the post office in Auburn, where he worked for 38 years and where she would eventually work and meet her husband, Rene Sirois, who died in 2016.

Sirois said that every Sunday, she and her family would go to the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Lincoln Street, and after church, she and her siblings would visit her uncle’s hot dog stand on Chestnut Street and marvel at the cornucopia of businesses downtown, many of which have closed.

There was the Plaza Restaurant at 177 Main St., which people on Facebook described as a “happening place” until it closed in 1959.

There was also the Nichols Tea Room, a narrow, well-populated restaurant opened in the ’40s by Peter and George Nichols, where people would stop by for an ice cream soda, a hot fudge sundae or to play a song through one of the jukeboxes installed at every table.

And then there was John Andrianos, who would drive around in the early-to-mid 1900s selling fruits and vegetables in a blue truck while dressed in an oversized suit and a pork pie hat.


The Lewiston-Auburn Greek Festival will be held at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lewiston September 5-7. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo


The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church has served as a touchstone of the Greek community here for more than 100 years.

Founded in 1910, it was remodeled in 1929, again in 1948, changed location from Lincoln Street to Hogan Road in 1977, on land donated by Dr. John Mendros, and has seen a fluctuating parishioner population.

According to the church’s website, the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church was originally constructed to serve the Greek families who immigrated to the area to work at Bates Mill and other mills in surrounding towns.

Jimmy Simones said that a lot of Greek families lived near the church when it was at Lincoln Street, which strengthened the bond between them.

“We all lived close to each other, and we were all the same ethnicity,” Jimmy said. “The church helped build a tight-knit community.”


When the mills in Maine began closing in the 1950s, Greek families began to move south, where the mills in Massachusetts remained open.

This left the church with a shrinking number of parishioners, and though it has remained relatively stable over the last several years, the Simones said that many of the people attending the church are recent converts.

It was built to accommodate 3,000 families. Today, between 130 and 160 families attend.

The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church while it was still located on Lincoln Street. Sun Journal file photo

Pastor Jon C. Emanuelson, who started at Holy Trinity in March after a six-year stint in North Carolina, said that over the last several months in Lewiston, he has found that while the number of Greek families in the area has dwindled since the ’20s and ’30s, there is still a sense of closeness that is typical of Orthodox parishes.

“The ethnic ties go back two, three, even four generations with some of these families,” Emanuelson said. “Even though the majority of the people in the parish is of non-Greek lineage now, the sense of community stays. It’s built into our parish. Not every church community has that strong tie, but we’re blessed with it.”

While the location of the church has changed and parishioners have come and gone, some elements of the original Holy Trinity church on Lincoln Street remain, including the icon screen at the back of the church and the altar.


Many of the Greek families who frequented Holy Trinity over the years are memorialized throughout the church, with each stained glass window dedicated to a different parishioner.

Emanuelson said that he’s still trying to get his feet underneath him at the new church, and the Lewiston-Auburn Greek Festival is one facet he has yet to experience.

“I’ve attended many Greek festivals over the years at different locations, but this will be my first time experiencing the way Lewiston and Auburn do it,” Emanuelson said.


Linda Simones said that one of the exciting things about the last several years of the Lewiston-Auburn Greek Festival is seeing the next generation stepping up and finding new, creative ways to push the festival forward.

“We still have the same core of people that was there 41 years ago, but we also have a lot of younger members taking the reins,” Linda said. “It adds a new enthusiasm to the festival. We’re able to keep the old traditions but bring a new, modern outlook to it.”


With the number of parishioners and Greek families living in Lewiston-Auburn dwindling by the year, Linda said it’s important that the younger generations continue to find ways to spice up the festival.

Melissa Simones Landry, Jimmy and Linda’s daughter, and her husband, Aaron, are serving as the festival chairs for the upcoming festival, and one change they’ve made is the addition of a “soft opening” on Thursday, Sept. 5.

Linda, Jimmy and their daughter Melissa at their world famous hot dog stand recently. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Scheduled for 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., it will be the appetizer to the festival’s main course on Friday and Saturday, according to Landry, offering Greek dance lessons, drinks from the Taverna and a sampling of the Greek food that people can get on the subsequent days of the festival.

After Thursday, the festival will continue from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a full menu of Greek entrees, drinks and desserts, church tours, selling of Greek merchandise and the sound of Greek music playing in the background.

Landry and Linda Simones added that the festival is a good way for people to become exposed to Greek traditions.

Never tried Greek wine before? Landry said that there will be plenty of it in the Taverna.


Don’t like feta cheese? Linda Simones insists that any feta naysayers will be swayed by the spanakopita.

People will also have an opportunity to take free Greek dancing lessons every hour during the soft opening, Landry said.

Landry added that the Greek Festival also serves a purpose to the health of Holy Trinity, as it’s the church’s biggest fundraiser of the year.


The current generations of Greek families in Lewiston and Auburn said that they remain unbothered by the decrease in Greek families staying in the area and that they’re finding their own ways to keep their Greek heritage alive.

Clifford said that his oldest son is “very, very conscious” of his Greek heritage.


“We’ve made trips to Greece, and his whole demeanor changes when he’s in Greece,” Clifford said. “He understands the language and speaks it pretty good.”

Sirois said that while it’s disappointing to see the younger Greek generations moving out of state for college or for work, she finds it important to continue volunteering and making sure people can experience Greek culture.

“Lewiston and Auburn have always been receptive to the Greeks and our culture,” Sirois said. “It’s been great.”

As for Landry, she wants to continue on the path set by her parents and grandparents.

“I feel like I want to help continue the traditions,” Landry said. “My mom and dad have always been involved with the church. I want to as well.”

Jimmy Simones said that his son, George, is a chanter at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, serving in the same position that Simones’ grandfather did years earlier.

Above all else, Linda Simones said that the Greek Festival remains a way for the Greeks in Lewiston and Auburn to share their traditions and their “sense of family” with others.

“I think people are looking for traditions in life and looking to belong,” Linda said. “Ethnic groups have that sense of family. I think the festival is something that binds and ties us all together.”

Father Jon Emanuelson of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“Everything around here has purpose and meaning,” Father Jon Emanuelson said about the icons and details at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The altar at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Hogan Road is the original altar from when the church was located on Lincoln Street in downtown Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The epitaphio is used once a year on Holy Friday at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Christine Sirois of Auburn volunteers at the Lewiston-Auburn Greek Festival. Here, she spends time at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand, which is owned by her cousin Jimmy Simones. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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