By Jack Kabrud, Hennepin History Museum curator
Demetrios Giorgos Villas was born in Niata Greece in 1883. He immigrated to the United States, alone, at the age of twelve, arriving at Ellis Island in the winter of 1895. During the cold of his first winter in America he slept in doorways, sometimes waking to find his hair frozen to the pavement. In the spring he began to sell fruit on the streets, saving what he could, until he earned enough for passage to Minneapolis. He spoke no English and travelled on the train with his destination and name pinned to his jacket.
Upon his arrival in Minneapolis he began working for, and learned his trade, at the Boosalis fruit brokerage firm. By 1910 he, along with his wife Caroline, had established their own business, the J.G Villas confectionary store, at 135 South 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis.
The store became a destination point for downtown shoppers, including future Minneapolis Star columnist Cedric Adams. Adams was so impressed by the store that nearly half a century later, in 1958, he wrote in his regular column
“On the site of the present Baker Building there was a Greek candy store and ice cream parlor with its huge electric fans hanging from the ceiling, its windows filled with fresh chocolates and bon bons, and its white-aproned Greek proprietor behind the soda fountain. Grandpa Adams and I made it over there two or three times during my visits for a chocolate soda. I haven’t tasted chocolate like that since.”
The stock market crash in 1929 hit the business hard. By the mid-1930s J.G Villas was forced out of business. Villas then went to work for the Phil Malay company as a produce broker.
These four confectionary jars were used in the J.G Villas confectionary store from 1910 to the mid-1930s. The jars were made purely for function and not decoration. They are made of thick, clear, unfrosted, and un-embellished glass, with the intention of showing off their tasty, and often beautiful, contents.
The jars were given to Villas’ daughter, Jeanne Villas Dorsey, (incidentally, the best Spanakopita maker I ever knew) and from her, to his three granddaughters, Caroline Dorsey Truth, Patricia Dorsey Nanoff, and Mary Jeanne Dorsey, who gave them to Hennepin History Museum in 2008