Chris Ann Nakis is one of Montreal’s most prominent restaurateurs. She owns the two downtown Montreal Baton Rouge restaurants, on Mountain Street across from the Bell Centre and on Ste. Catherine West across from Place des Arts with her father Paul. She also co-owns the fabled Schwartz’s with her father Paul Nakis, daughter Anastasia Nakis, superstar singer Céline Dion, René Angelil and Angelil’s nephews Martin and Eric Sara. Nakis is a partner in other Montreal establishments. Her family has been involved in the restaurant business for decades.
The energy she devotes to her businesses is equalled by her devotion to causes close to her heart — the welfare of children and the fight against cancer.
Nakis is the president of Shield of Athena Family Services, which offers services and shelter to victims of family violence and engages in community outreach, all in many languages.
Nakis has also been involved for many years with the St. Justine children’s hospital foundation.
And she has conducted fundraising for the Oncology departments of the Royal Victoria and Jewish General hospitals, amongst efforts for other organizations.
Nakis became involved with the Shield of Athena when founder and executive director Melpa Kamateros approached her in the 1990s.
“Melpa asked me if I would care to fundraise— it was a small organization and it needed people who were in various communities across the city — and before I knew it, I was in there lock, stock and barrel,” Nakis told The Suburban. “Melpa and I worked extremely hard with [former Town of Mount Royal mayor] Vera Danyluk, and we were able to get the necessary funds to open up a shelter, about 11 years ago.”
Efforts are now underway to create a second phase home in Laval.
The Shield of Athena fit in perfectly with Nakis’s deep concern for the welfare of children.
“The Shield is one of the few associations where we help the mothers, as well as the children,” Nakis pointed out. “I looked into it, and found out there were Christmas and Easter parties, fundraising for clothing for little girls and clothing for little guys, and legal services and translations were being done. This was extremely detailed, focused on one thing only — violence in the home with the mother and child.
“That sold me.”
The fight against cancer is also very meaningful to Nakis.
“My mother passed away from melanoma in 1998, my two uncles and grandparents also died of cancer — it’s quite a rampant gene in the two families,” she explained. “I met with Dr. Walter Gottlieb at the Jewish General a few years ago — he was doing research on ovarian cancer — and then a few years after that, I met with Dr. Francine Tremblay from the Royal Victoria, who operated on me for breast cancer. She is just an amazing surgeon-oncologist, now at the Glen hospital, and she saved my life.
“So to me, there ain’t much else, it just seems to constantly hover. So it’s very, very close to my heart and I’ve become very close to a number of doctors.”
Nakis was introduced to the Ste. Justine hospital foundation by entrepreneur Jean-Pierre Boissonneault.
“We had been friends over the years, and he’s raised millions of dollars for Ste. Justine — he does annual golf tournaments,” she pointed out.
Nakis said that the more involved she becomes in a cause, “the more I realize how much of a commitment is necessary. I try to make the Shield of Athena my sole go-to second office, and the other things I do are attempts to raise funds through lunches, dinners, silent auctions, auctions at my restaurants, always using the restaurants as a catalyst.”
Nakis’s daughter Anastasia, a caterer and a writer and cook by profession, is now involved in fundraising as well.
“She does annual fundraisers for the Montreal Children’s Hospital — she’s got her little Christmas party happening. She gives a percentage of her sales in catering to the Children’s. She also does a fundraiser for Movember from Schwartz’s every November — all the guys grow their beards and mustaches — and the money from that goes to fight men’s cancers.”
Nakis says she is so involved with organizations like the Shield of Athena, which serves many communities in their own language, because children should be able to thrive.
“I believe in our kids,” she says. “I really think the kids need a chance. Very often, they don’t have one. As parents, it’s our obligation to reach out and try to help the children. And if you can help them in their language, it only makes our language so much easier to learn. They have to feel a sense of comfort.
“That’s where I’m at.”