Sober Restaurateur Sells BBQ Joint To Go Help People In Recovery

By Victoria Kim 07/21/17

The restaurant owner has hung up his apron and is gearing up for his new role in recovery.

Image: 
Male chef in a white coat

Anastasio "Stas" Botsaris, the owner of Phoebe’s BBQ in the heart of Philadelphia, has come a long way.

He’s now 10 years sober and giving up his successful BBQ joint on South Street for a full-time position at a rehab one hour north of the city.

“I don’t view recovery as a prison sentence, because it’s not,” said Stas, according to an in-depth profile by Billy Penn. “It’s an opportunity to keep going.”

Growing up, his father Papa George was his role model—he was also a drug-dealing Greek mafia boss. “I was always attracted to that lifestyle of organized crime,” said Stas. “I had no desire to be a lawyer or a doctor. When I grew up I wanted to be a wise guy.”

Stas was still a teenager when his father died of a heart attack at age 47. Around the time of his high school graduation, he began selling and using everything from weed and pills to heroin and coke. “I think [his addiction] was the result of not mourning, and just self-medicating instead,” said his older brother Demetri.

He was sucked in by the drugs business. “Drugs were my currency. For trade, for social acceptability.” But eventually it got out of control.”It came to the point where the drug of choice didn’t matter. The only thing on my mind was finding ways and means to get more.”

At the time Stas was living above Phoebe’s BBQ, and was given the opportunity of a lifetime when he was asked to buy the place. Spiro, who ran Phoebe’s back then, told him, “You can clean up your act and go legit.”

Stas said yes. “It was really an act of addiction,” he said. “I was fortunate to be able to purchase the business, but the real intent was to get another one in me.”

His foray into the restaurant business didn’t start out well, though. He kept inconsistent hours and was still using. “I might have had a place to live, but I was spiritually non-existent. One of the crazy things about the disease of addiction is it will have you think everything’s okay. I had girlfriends and stuff. I was able to convince not just myself but also other people that everything was fine.”

Demetri recalled watching as Stas struggled. “He was good at hiding it, and we were good at being in denial.” Ultimately he and his mother planned an intervention. Stas agreed to get help and stayed at the Malvern Institute for 14 days, suffering through a painful withdrawal in the process.

At the time he wondered, “What is there to look forward to? Will I ever have fun again?”

After rehab, Stas put all his focus into improving Phoebe’s. In addition to the restaurant, he opened a food truck and catering division. “When you have your moment of clarity, it completely changes your life,” he said. “It was either go onto the bitter end—jails, institutions, death—or say ‘fuck it, I can’t live this way.’”

Now after successfully expanding his business, Stas is ready for a new chapter. He put Phoebe’s up for sale, and is gearing up for his new role as outreach director at Avenues Recovery in Bucks County.

“There is a stigma about addicts, that they’re junkies and bad people and criminals,” said Stas. “The numbers on overdoses in Philly this year are frightening. We’re losing people every day. I’m just one little voice, but my experience is that if I could do it, anyone can.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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