"In 1940, there was the big Depression and then the war," Poulos recalls in his thick Greek accent. "My mom was struggling. I was hungry."
His mother raised and sold vegetables to support her four children. She also got help from her late husband's cousin, Angelo Poulos, who at the time owned the Michigan Theater and the Allenel Hotel in Ann Arbor. But that lifeline was cut, and she lost her savings, when first Italy and then Germany invaded Greece.
"My mother was strong," Pete Poulos says. "She told us the best things in life are to be honest and love and don't expect anything from anybody and just keep working hard. Which is what I've done these last fifty years."
In 1952, knowing no English and carrying one suitcase, Poulos sailed to the United States. He arrived at Ellis Island, where, at his uncle's suggestion, he shortened his name. Then he moved in with an aunt and uncle in Muskegon, spent a year working in a factory and learning English, and enrolled in high school at age seventeen.