All in the (Greek-American) family

When you walk into the recently refurbished Royal Regency Hotel in Yonkers, what first catches your eye is a spacious, chic foyer and then a staircase that leads to the upper lobby walled by a rich, dark wood paneling that complements the regal purple theme throughout.

But if you look a little closer, there are subtle clues that tell the story of the building’s history and the people who have played a role in its evolution over the last 50 years.

In the trim of the guest rooms, the sconces outside the baths and the fabric of some of the lobby chairs is the Greek fret or key pattern — a motif of upside-down and reverse “L”s that is prominent in Greco-Roman and neoclassical art.

Maria Pampafikos, a co-owner of the boutique hotel, explained that even though the sporadically placed design is supposed to be a subtle nod to her heritage, it says a lot about the culture of her Greek-American family, which has owned the hotel since 1992.

“The gods used to disguise themselves as weary travelers and knock on the door of their citizens and dependent upon how the citizens would treat the traveler, they would be either rewarded or punished,” she explains. “We treat our guests like divinities, because you never know.”

But the guests of the property on Tuckahoe Road weren’t always there for a hotel stay. Pampafikos’ parents, Konstantinos and Phyllis Paxos, bought the property from the family of Greek-American Tom Carvelas, the soft-serve ice cream pioneer whose dessert company Carvel Corp. had owned the building since the 1960s.

The Carvel story, Pampafikos says, started with an ice cream truck in Westchester County that broke down one day but ultimately inspired Carvelas to have a stationary location to sell his product. The building that now houses the Royal Regency was a home base for the Carvel brand and operated as an ice cream store, office, inn and training facility for franchisees.

Much has changed since those days and now after the completion of a more than $4 million interior renovation and with exterior remodeling in progress, the building would hardly be recognizable to the Yonkers residents who used to buy a soft-serve cone there.

The purpose of the investment, Pampafikos said, was to “completely reimagine the brand,” creating something “sleek, clean, modern, trendy — kind of getting away from a traditional decorating style.”

The transformation is what Pampafikos said she has enjoyed most during her more than 10-year tenure with the hotel.

The sometimes small decisions or ideas that have come to fruition, be it those that “we as a family have made or any one of us individually putting into action,” she says, have brought the “business to a better place, a more profitable place, a more enjoyable place for guests. That’s probably been the best. It really gives you a sense of accomplishment.”

Pampafikos has also gone through a transformation with the hotel. Her parents — a father from Greece and a mother from Albania — made sure that she and her siblings learned hard work and family values by way of waiting tables, hosting and dishwashing for the hotel when they were in high school.

In college, Pampafikos started an internship on the administrative side of the hotel doing paperwork, sitting in on meetings and eventually starting full time at the Royal Regency after graduating college.

“I don’t know if I made a decision,” she says about taking on the day-to-day management of the hotel, a job she inherited from her father and now shares with her husband, Nick. “But I just kind of went with it. I enjoyed what I was doing. I enjoyed the challenge of improving what we already have, so I guess I just sort of fell into it.”

Improving the hotel, she says, hasn’t been limited to physical renovations. Giving a nearly 20-year-old company an online presence has also been a part of the updates.

“The millennials are doing things in such a different way. They’re searching in a different way. They’re looking for a different experience. They want things to be done differently,” Pampafikos says.

The challenge has been keeping up from a technology and social media standpoint with mobile-friendly websites and Twitter and Instagram accounts, all of which represent the ways many young people come across ideas, people, businesses and trends.

“Just like any other business, it’s just keeping up with what’s happening at the current time,” Pampafikos says. “We’ve been in the community for such a long time and we’ve been through the hard times with the community and I think that we’re going to be around even 20 years in the future.”

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