Stanley James Nicas, 91
LEICESTER - Stanley J. Nicas, the owner and executive chef of the Castle Restaurant, died Sunday, May 25, at UMass Memorial Medical Center. He leaves his daughter, Evangeline H. Nicas; son, James S. Nicas and wife Denise; granddaughter, Nicole and husband Joshua Rovner; granddaughter, Laurier and husband Andrew Alder; grandsons, Alexander, Charles and Jack Nicas; and great-grandchildren, Desmond and Maxwell. His son, John S. Nicas, passed in 2005. Helen K. Nicas, the love of his life and wife of 56 years, passed in 2004.
Stanley is survived by one brother, Ilia of Greece. He was predeceased by his brothers Gregory, Kristo, Thanasi, Nicholas, Kosta and Vasili, and his sisters Vivian, Sophia and Elizabeth (Sava). He leaves many nieces, nephews and cousins in the U.S. and Greece.
Stanley was born on May 29, 1923, in Milford, Mass., the son of Dimitrius and Panagio (Natsis) Nikas. Less than a year later, Stanley's family returned to Northern Epirus, Greece, to care for his grandmother. He grew up there, working in his father's general store and as an apprentice chef. In 1939, Italians invaded the region at the start of World War II and the U.S. instructed its citizens to return home. As the only male U.S. citizen in his family, 15-year-old Stanley boarded the SS Rex for New York alone, armed with just $20 and a few English words.
Stanley met an uncle in Stoughton, Mass., and spent several years working in area restaurants. After Pearl Harbor, Stanley enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on the U.S.S. Bunker Hill CV-17, an aircraft carrier stationed in the Pacific Ocean, from 1942 through 1945, rising the ranks to Boatswain's Mate Second Class. While at sea, he fought in 23 major engagements as a gunner on the Mount Five gun station, including in the Battle of Okinawa in May 1945 when two Japanese kamikazes struck his ship in less than 30 seconds, killing more than 400 of his shipmates. An explosion during that battle injured Stanley and knocked him into the Pacific, where he was rescued. After the war, Stanley played for the U.S. military soccer team in South America on a mission to promote good will.
In 1946, he returned to Worcester and purchased the White House Restaurant on Park Avenue Extension. Shortly after, at a church Thanksgiving dance, he asked a pretty Greek girl to dance. She was Helen Kotseas, the oldest of six sisters who helped run her father's produce-delivery business. They wed in 1949.
Later that year, the couple bought a restaurant and dairy bar called the Castle on the shores of Lake Sargent in Leicester. They later built a pizzeria next door. By the mid-1960s, Stanley and Helen had a successful business and three children, but when Worcester began tearing down old buildings, including the public library and YWCA, they decided to build a real castle. Stanley had the buildings' immense stones delivered to him, and over the next several years, the Nicas family built by hand a striking stone castle, complete with moat, on Route 9 in Leicester. The Castle Restaurant was born and, for the next 50 years, became one of the region's most legendary fine-dining destinations.
For more than 65 years, Stanley and Helen worked long hours together building a life for themselves and their families, both in the U.S. and Europe. The restaurant was a true family business, with their son Jim running the dining room, Evangeline handling the finances, and John leading the kitchen. Meanwhile, the Castle became hugely popular, winning national culinary and wine awards.
Stanley believed strongly in hard work and in sharing his knowledge with the next generation. He often said he always wanted to be a schoolteacher; he instead ended up as a teacher in the kitchen. He began an esteemed apprenticeship program at the Castle in 1952 and worked with both the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., for over 40 years.
Stanley helped found the Distinguished Visiting Chef program at Johnson & Wales in 1979 and then chaired the program until his death, teaching cooking demonstrations alongside more than 170 of the world's best chefs. Johnson & Wales awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in 1979 and named him a distinguished visiting chef in 1982. The Culinary Institute of America named him Chef of the Year in 1980.
Stanley became a nationally known chef, cooking for several U.S. presidents and coaching the U.S. team in the international Culinary Olympics. He was a member of the American Academy of Chefs, the American Culinary Federation, the International Wine and Food Society, and many other esteemed culinary organizations. He served as the grand commander of the Honorable Order of the Golden Toque, the grand bailli of La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, and the national chairman and president of the Les Amis d'Escoffier Society. He was a 32nd degree Mason and a proud member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Rochdale.
Stanley was an avid skier, a world traveler, and a student of history. He worked tirelessly all his life, on his feet in the Castle kitchen until his death. Cooking was his passion, but his true love was his family. In his later years, he looked forward to summers in Cape Cod, where he would spend hours telling stories to his grandchildren.
Throughout his life, Stanley said he was lucky. He was lucky to be born in the U.S. and he was lucky to be the only one of 11 children to have the opportunity to return to America. He was luckier still, he'd say, to have survived World War II, when his ship buried more men at sea than any other. And he was the luckiest, he knew, when he met his life partner, Helen.
The truth is, we were the lucky ones. He will always be our inspiration and he will be missed.
Calling hours will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 1, at Morin-Morrison Funeral Home at 1131 Main St. in Leicester. A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Monday, June 2, at Saint Spyridon Cathedral at 102 Russell St. in Worcester. Memorial donations may be made to the Salvation Army, Saint Spyridon's building fund or
Morrison-Morin Funeral Home
1131 Main Street Leicester, MA 01524
Published in Worcester Telegram & Gazette from May 28 to May 29, 2014