After my parents were divorced in the early 90s, I lived with our mother and my older sister lived with our father for a while. During that difficult time, my mother and I lived on Melrose near the corner of Sherbrooke, and I spent a lot of time exploring the neighbourhood as a bored, lonely 10-year-old.

While it might seem strange for a kid that young to be walking and biking all over NDG by himself today, back then, it was pretty commonplace and it allowed me to meet lots of kids and strike up a few interesting friendships.

I’m sure Cosmos restaurant founder Tony Koulakis wouldn’t have remembered me from those days, but I remember Tony so very well. In those days, I would regularly spend hours between his restaurant, the Sun Video store, and the comic book shop right next to Cosmos.

While I basically went unnoticed in the other two locations, I guess Tony understood how badly I needed a friend at that time in my life and always made me feel like his door was especially open to me.

It’s not like he played therapist to the 10-year-old me – but I remember my regular visits during which he would see me walk in, smile from ear to ear, and grill up a special, giant cheeseburger for me. Combined with some of his world-famous hashbrowns, the lingering cloud of cigarette smoke, a can of Coke, and the sound of conversations between patrons, that cheeseburger was always a highlight for me.

I hope they’ll choose to keep the restaurant open and give NDGers a chance to give them back the love they and their father have always given us.

It wasn’t long before I moved for being alone at my mom’s to being reunited with my sister and father and life becoming normal and happy again as I started Grade 6, but during the confusing months of being torn between my parents breaking up and all the turmoil that can bring to a child, Tony and Cosmos was a safe haven where I always felt home.

Over the years since, I’ve been to Cosmos more times than I can possibly count. Since Tony retired, it’s usually been his kids Nick or Nikki behind the counter and once in a while I’d be lucky enough to see Tony at the cash. The price of my mish mash or Creation sandwich, of course, changed every time I ate there – it was always a little cheaper if everyone finished their plates.

The news of Tony being killed last weekend was shocking. No one deserves to have their life ended that way – especially at the hand of a child (another of his kids, not the ones mentioned above). Now it’s up to Nick, Nikki and the rest of the Koulakis family to pick up the pieces and also decide whether to keep Cosmos open.

While I’m absolutely certain Tony, Nick, and Nikki couldn’t possibly remember the 10-year-old me or know they impact they had on me at the time, whether it’s six months between visits or more, they’ve always given me the feeling that they remember my face and continued to make me feel at home In their restaurant. Every time I walk into Cosmos, I’m brought back to a feeling of people caring and helping me feel better in a tough time.

And I’m definitely not the only person who’s been lucky enough to be taken care of the Koulakis family in a time of need.

As a community, now it’s time to give that feeling back to them. Nikki and Nick will be faced with an unbelievably hard decision once they’ve had a chance to bury their beloved father. I hope they’ll choose to keep the restaurant open and give NDGers a chance to give them back the love they and their father have always given us.

Update: After posting this on this blog, I got a few nice comments from friends so I sent it to The Gazette. They ended up posting it as their “Letter of the Day” on Tuesday, June 25, and then printed it in their July 26 edition. Thanks to The Gazette for sharing my piece!