Jimmy Velis wanted to do something special for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. After all, the couple’s shoe repair shop, Deno’s of Highland Park, passed the same milestone just a few years prior.
“We have a slideshow set up and music,” Velis said in advance of their surprise party. “My uncle actually did a big scrapbook for them, where everybody wrote them letters.”
When Angelina and Deno Velis came through the doors of Brookhaven Country Club on Saturday to a patio full of their closest friends and family, they certainly were caught off guard.
“We came because our grandson was playing golf,” Angelina said, expressing their surprise.
The celebration honored not only the couple, who grew up across the street from each other in Greece, but also their embodiment of the American dream.
Deno learned shoemaking through an apprenticeship in Greece after his mother died during World War II and he had to support his siblings.
In time, he came to America by way of an uncle in Little Rock, Ark., and eventually made his way to Dallas. Here, he began working at a shoe repair shop on Lovers Lane owned by a German immigrant. When the owner wanted to retire, he sold the shop to Deno, who changed the shop’s name in the 1960s. Just like that, a local legend was born.
“We’ve set ourselves apart from a standard shoe repair,” Jimmy said. “The way we do our repairs is much different.”
For example, Jimmy said, most shoe-repair shops are run by one or two people, but Deno’s employs 15 who all specialize in a different task. Customers include not only Park Cities regulars, but also celebrities such as Madonna and members of Coldplay and Green Day. The Velises even worked on former first lady Laura Bush’s shoes for her husband’s first inauguration.
Today, Jimmy and his brother-in-law, Harry Yianitsas, operate the shop together. But Deno and Angelina can still be found working on their life’s passion in the shop.
“When you do good work and you treat your customer right, they will come back and see you,” said Basil Sideris, a cousin of the family. “It’s the only thing to do- — be honest, be sincere, be humble, which he is.”
The reference to Deno’s humility is no exaggeration.
“We’re thankful that Highland Park, University Park, and Dallas support us,” Deno said. “We’re very lucky.”