Yiannis Klouvas is my friend. He is also the owner of the Blue Lagoon, our favorite night spot in Rhodes.
Actually, our favorite night spot. Period.
We come to Rhodes to see him and dance our feet off at his establishment.
I’ve come by during the middle of the day when the place is quiet. He wants to tell me his story.
I’ve interspersed his biography with pictures from the Blue Lagoon. After all, this popular club is more than a business, it is an extension of his life and dreams.
If the six year old Yiannis, living beside the wall of the old city, in a building with wooden beams for rooms, met you now Yiannis, sheriff of Rhodes. Would he be proud to be you?
He would be proud to be me, because I started with nothing, and achieved enough.
What did you learn from your childhood?
I had a very bad childhood. Poor family, without a house. My father’s origin was from another island, Chios (where they produce the ancient mastic gum).
Have you ever gone to to Chios?
Never. Neither did my father. The name “Klouvas” originates in Chios. My mother is also from another island. Kastelorizo.
She came from a rich family. Her father owned a boatyard. They made wooden ships, like this one. They had their own ship that travelled to Israel and Africa. They brought goods back to Greece. During the Second World War, when the Germans conquered the islands, they destroyed everything. Burned everything down. So her brothers immigrated to Australia and my Mother, together with two of her sisters, moved to Rhodes.
They found themselves on the island, she was 28 years old. At that time, she appeared very old to be single, so her cousin who was a priest found my father to marry her. She taught him how to write, how to dress properly, but inside he was a very violent man. He was a schizophrenic.
He got his pension in 1955 from the government, when I was born. He was only thirty-five, and physically such a strong man. He told me that he had an operation and had a nervous breakdown. He was violent towards the physician, and the doctor signed for him to receive a pension for the rest of his life. I discovered the truth of what really happened only one year before he died: he was a schizophrenic. No one told my Mom, she died without knowing. If I had known, perhaps I could have forgiven him for the things he did. And I would have protected my mother more. No one told my Mom about his problem and she was a woman who suffered quietly. She was a very decent and humble soul.
That’s how I was raised, by a father who was violent, but with a very fine woman as a mother. I finished my grade school at twelve with highest honors. Then I couldn’t go to high school because I had to work to survive. When my teachers found out I couldn’t go to high school they told my mother “If your son doesn’t go to school you are making a crime.” So I worked during the day and went to night school. I went to a technical school and worked as a carpenter. I never took my diploma – at the same time I was an adolescent and my mother couldn’t tell me what to do anymore.
Still, Yiannis considers himself lucky.
I feel that my generation was lucky – two generations before me, young people would have to emigrate. One generation before me they went to work on ships. My generation was lucky because tourism had just started.
Very soon I learned how to survive within the tourism industry. I still worked as a carpenter during daytime, in the nighttime I learned how to dance Greek dances and would perform with a trio I put together, in costume. We danced in five or six night clubs and hotels every night.
At the age of fourteen we went to Canada. My brothers and sisters had moved there. We took our father with, going as tourists, otherwise he wouldn’t sign my passport. We had in mind to ask our brother to apply for perminent residency in Canada, but our ‘clever’ father one night stole our passports and came back to Greece, forcing us to return. In Canada I would have prospered. I’m interested in everything.
The only good thing I got in Canada was my basis for English. I never learned the language in school.
At the same time I taught myself to play bouzouki. I played in a few restaurants. In 1978 I went to Finland for three months to play bouzouki in a restaurant. Together with my brother who had returned from Canada, we set up our first nightclub. Since then I have made many nightclubs and discos. It’s a job that gives me joy. I love to entertain people, I consider myself an entertainer.
Is running an entertainment establishment what gives you the most satisfaction?
Actually, the goal for me and the best time is when I am building them, not when I manage them. That’s when you create your vision and bring it to life.
The Blue Lagoon started in 1992, and I’ve been here since then.
I’m married since 1979. I have two beautiful daughters, which is the most important thing – I am the father to them that I wanted to have for myself. I met good people, I met crooks, some people who I helped betrayed my trust and my efforts.
I learned that most of the time you have to have a relation with people, just like the relationship between fire and man – not too close because you get burned, not too far because you catch cold. You have to be careful, alert, and remember during difficult times such as these that there are many people around you with an agenda of their own.
The worst kind of people are the ingrates. When they understand that you are down and out, they jump ship. The best kind are the ones that appreciate what you give them, and are always there for you, no matter what condition – they are the few.
I am successful because I work very hard, I’ve travelled a lot, I’ve brought ideas and systems to Rhodes that no one considered previously. I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve brought happiness to many people (last night we met here Belgian friends who have been visiting Yiannis and his various establishments for thirty years!). I have a good reputation. My aim was never to save money and become rich. My aim was always to create and innovate.
What is luck?
I believe that luck was with me till 1985. After that it’s only my own hands. Luck helps people who are lazy. Why? Because she knows where to find them – underneath an umbrella. Luck cannot ‘find’ the people who are always on the go.
Do you go to casinos?
I buy continuously a Lotto number. Because in Greece in our day and age, the only thing that can solve the problem is to win something in the lottery. I play a number and I’m among the 25% who lose money on the lottery.
Now I’m president of the restaurant’s association on the island, I’m on the board of the chamber of commerce and I always strive to better the situation of Rhodes. Of all the entertainment centers that I created I have the best memories and friends to this day.
Why did you keep the Blue lagoon?
I created it from scratch. It was an outdoor cinema. I made the swimming pool, everything you see here. It’s the theme of my life:
All my life I sailed in waters that were unfamiliar. To survive in this business, you have to be a little of a pirate.