Over the years, anyone visiting The Bright Star Restaurant in Bessemer would always be greeted by a gentleman with a bright smiling face that would welcome them, ask how they were doing, and help them get seated. Little did most visitors know that was one of the owners Jimmy Koikos. Jimmy Koikos passed away early this morning at the age of 81 after a 7 month battle with bone cancer. Jimmy was co-owner of the Bright Star with his brother Nicky. Jimmy has been an icon at the Bright Star for almost 60 years.
Jimmy and Nicky’s father, Bill Koikos, immigrated from Greece in 1920 and started working as a busboy at the Bright Star. Their Uncle, Pete Koikos, immigrated at the same time. Bill married Anastasia Micros in 1935. They had three children Helen, Jimmy, and Nicky.
Over the years, the two brothers Bill and Pete, saved money and purchased an ownership interest in the Bright Star Restaurant in 1945. They owned the restaurant with Gus Sarris until 1960 when Peter retired. The restaurant was started in 1907 by their father’s cousin Tom Bonduris.
Jimmy grew up in Bessemer, attending Arlington Elementary, and played football at Bessemer High School. At the age of 14, in 1952, Jimmy went to work after school at the family business. After graduating from Bessemer High School in 1957, Jimmy went on to attend the University of Alabama.
Jimmy came to manage the Bright Star with his father in 1960 after his mother paid him a visit at the university in the fall of 1959 to tell him that his father needed him back at the restaurant since his uncle was retiring. His brother Nicky joined them nine years later.
Jimmy, Nicky, and their Father purchased Gus Sarris’ ownership interest in 1968. Bill Koikos transferred the ownership of the restaurant to his sons in the 1970s but continued to work at the restaurant until the 1980s. Jimmy took after his father, who could often find Bill at the front door greeting customers with a smile and passing out mints.
In the early 80’s the Reality Building that housed the Bright Star was being looked at by a developer. Jimmy convinced his landlord, Wallace Boothby, to sell him the building. The brothers took over the ownership of the building and renovated it increasing the seating capacity of The Bright Star to 345.
Helen, Jimmy and Nicky’s sister worked in the business as a cashier in the late 1980s. Helen married John Cocoris in 1963. The couple had three daughters, Anastasia (Stacey), Connie, and Joanna. Stacey Cocoris Craig (Jimmy and Nicky’s niece) has worked as Business Manager at the restaurant since 2001.
When asked what has kept them in Bessemer all these years, Jimmy stated in a recent interview, “The continued patronage of the guests, the support of the residents, the opportunity to contribute to the community by providing jobs and contributing to the growth of Bessemer. “
Jimmy and Nicky do not have children. In 2010, Jimmy and Nicky’s second cousin, Andreas Anastassakis, a native of Toronto Canada, came to Bessemer and is now General Manager at The Bright Star.
Jimmy was an avid University of Alabama fan attending Paul “Bear” Bryant’s first game in 1958, and he was in attendance at Coach Bryant’s last game in 1982. Coach Bryant was a frequent visitor at The Bright Star and had a private table near the kitchen that the Koikos would also reserve for him. Over the years, several of the Crimson Tides head coaches became fans of the restaurant, including the current head coach Nick Saban. Jimmy was a frequent visitor at Alabama football practice where he would bring the coaches some of the Brights Star’s famous icebox pies. In September of 2019, Jimmy was presented by Coach Nick Saban an Alabama jersey with his name on it and the number #1 at a ceremony dedicating the “grab n go” section of the Mal M. Moore Atheltic Facility to Jimmy.
The Bright Star has experienced remarkable growth, expanding from a 25 seat cafe to a 330 seat restaurant, all without sacrificing quality. Over the past ten years, the Bright Star has consistently been rated among the top three restaurants in Birmingham by Birmingham Newsreaders. In addition, the restaurant was recognized in the United States Congressional Record in 1996 by Senator Howell Heflin for its status as an Alabama landmark and its service to the community.
The Bright Star has recently received the TripAdvisor 2016 Certificate of Excellence. The restaurant has also won many other awards over the years, including the James Beard Foundation Award as an American Classic and the Bama’s Best Steak by the AL Cattlemen’s Association 2012. The Bright Star has also been featured on many national and international television shows.
For over 112 years, Bessemer, Alabama, has been blessed with living examples of the American Dream, the Koikos Family. Jimmy Koikos was truly a bright and shining Star to all who were blessed to know him. Recently, the City of Bessemer, Alabama, unanimously approved a Resolution to establish The Walk of Bright Stars. The honor was bestowed in recognition of the invaluable “Treasure” that Jimmy Koikos, the Koikos Family, and the Bright Star Restaurant, have been to our community.
From being a small child growing up in Bessemer to becoming a very popular and prominent figure in the community. Jimmy Koikos always stayed humble, you could always find him at The Bright Star greeting customers and visiting tables asking people how their day was going, sweeping the floor, straightening up, passing out mints and doing the small things that others of his stature would get employees to do. Jimmy Koikos was a legend in his own time, there will never be another like him and he will be missed, but will live on in the memories and minds of all. He will be forever a fixture in the minds of everyone that visited the Bright Star as that cheerful man that greeted you as you entered.
Official statement from the Koikos family.
Thank you for your continued prayers during this difficult time.
November 16, 2019
The Bright Star family announces with deep sorrow the passing of beloved owner Jimmy B. Koikos on November 16, 2019. To allow his beloved employees to celebrate Jimmy's life, The Bright Star will be closed all day Tuesday, November 19th and Wednesday November 20th. We will reopen at 11:00 am on Thursday, November 21st. Nicky, Andreas and Stacey, along with the entire Bright Star family, look forward to welcoming all of their loyal and beloved customers, continuing the legacy built by Jimmy during his 60 years at The Bright Star. We appreciate the outpouring of love from customers and friends at this sad time. May his memory be eternal!
Visitation will be Tuesday, November 19th from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. with Trisagion service at 7:00, at Holy Trinity- Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Birmingham. Funeral will be Wednesday, November 20th at 11:00 am at the Cathedral. A memorial meal will be served in the Cathedral Banquet Hall following a graveside service at Elmwood Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Holy Trinity- Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 307 19th Street South, Birmingham Al. 35233 : The Robert E Reed Oncology Research Foundation c/o Hannon Sharley Davidson, P.O. Box 530186, Birmingham Al. 35253 : and the 1831 Scholarship Fund at The University of Alabama, P.O. 870101, Tuscaloosa Al 35487-0101