IN THIS ISSUE, restaurant consultant and Estiator contributor Constantine Kolitsas studies the growing trend in upscale Greek restaurants and offers warnings and suggestions to established restaurateurs venturing into the upscale space from the diner and family restaurant segments. While his assessment of quality Greek restaurants in New York City begins with those restaurants that ushered in the trend in the late 80s, it’s important to note that earlier restaurants, such as the historic Pantheon on Eighth Avenue, were the true forerunners. In its day, the Pantheon was the dining destination of out-of-town Greeks and Greek Americans visiting Manhattan, a popular eatery for the city’s movers and shakers beyond the Greek community, and the definitive fine dining Greek restaurant for the Northeast. While there were some Manhattan restaurants that served Greek food, the Pantheon stood alone in the fine dining category.
In Chicago and Detroit “Greek Towns”, many years earlier, there were several pioneer Greek restaurants. Today, Halsted Street in Chicago continues to have a vibrant upscale Greek restaurant scene, for which we are planning a special issue.
When Periyiali opened in the Chelsea section of Manhattan in 1987, (the same year Estiator was launched) the Pantheon had been closed for a decade and, as such, owner Steve Tzolis took on the herculean task of elevating the perception of Greek cuisine in the minds of New Yorkers. A great success, attracting celebrities such as Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, that restaurant continues to be among the most notable Greek eateries in the city. In an interview with Estiator over twenty-five years ago, Mr. Tzolis dismissed concerns that others might mimic his concept and take market share from him. Instead, he welcomed the idea of more Greek Americans opening Greek-themed upscale eateries, insisting that a greater presence would help to create a market for the cuisine. And others came. John Livanos opened Molyvos in 1997 and soon thereafter many others followed. Indeed, today’s proliferation of Greek restaurants in Manhattan bears weight to Mr. Tzolis’s perception.
And the trend is branching out, beyond New York to other large cities, and beyond the large cities to the suburbs where restaurants such as Varka owned by Peter Mastorakos family in Ramsey, NJ are doing a superb job of representing Greek cuisine and, in so doing, finding tremendous success.