coming to america

You don’t need to look far to see that Westchester is truly a melting pot of people who have come from around the world to make this county their home. While many of the people we meet are first, second and third generation Americans, here, we celebrate one of our own residents by telling his story of coming to America.

The youngest of four children, born in the port city of Piraeus, Greece, Argyris Karagis served in the Greek military before joining the Merchant Marines. In 1967, at the age of 24, he jumped ship in Baltimore Harbor, slipped past immigration officials and, with only five dollars in his pocket, he made his way to New York City. Once there, he located a second cousin and started working for him: pumping gas on 12-hour shifts for an hourly wage of $1.65. Like many other immigrants, he lived sparingly, regularly sending money home to his family in Greece.

By then, he had changed his first name to Syl (a derivation of his Greek name, meaning “silver” or “something of value”) and soon, with true entrepreneurial spirit and a driving desire to make his way in America, became part-owner in five gas stations. But despite supervising 60 employees, he was constantly fearful of being deported as he was without legal immigration status.

Shortly thereafter, Syl entered into something of a “marriage of convenience,” which lasted ten years and brought him his daughter, Anastasia.

Of course, rocky roads are to be expected. And when the bad times hit, Syl could be found operating a single gas station in a crime-ridden section of Queens, NY. Because the station was busy filling gas tanks and pulling in a lot of cash, it became an easy and obvious target for criminals. Syl recalls being robbed on a regular basis, at least monthly, and sometimes at gunpoint. So while the gas shortage of 1974 helped keep the station profitable, the dangerous location ultimately led to its demise.

Fast forward to 1980, when Syl was 37 years old. Ever the entrepreneur, he had the idea of opening up a cheese shop right here in Westchester – Mamaroneck, to be exact. He felt confident going in to the enterprise as he was promised help from someone in a similar business. He built a nice store on Boston Post Road. And true to the saying, “Build it and they will come,” they did. The store was packed on that first day. Day two rolled around and his “mentor” was no where to be found. But Syl was never one to be deterred. Not afraid of hard work, long hours or worry, he pressed on: learning the business and catering to his customers.

With time, he turned the shop into a small eatery and introduced the concept of salads, at just the beginning of the salad revolution. It was called Esy’s Kafe. Through persistence and creativity, Esy’s became very popular, catering mostly to women who found the menu healthy and appealing. Within two years, he had opened a second location, this one in White Plains on Mamaroneck Avenue. Bringing his unique set of skills and sheer determination, Syl turned the new location into another successful business.

Now, happily remarried for over 21 years, Syl embodies everything it means to come to America and achieve the life of your dreams through hard work, persistence and grace.

Nancy Kessler

Nancy Kessler

Nancy Kessler is a personal historian who creates beautifully bound hand-crafted books as well as digital memoirs through her company Memoirs Plus LLC. Nancy can be reached at 914.261.0834 or
Nancy Kessler

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