Getting to Know: Greco
This isn’t the life that Demetri Tsolakis’ parents wanted for him.
Growing up in Western Massachusetts to immigrant parents, Demetri’s life revolved around his family’s Greek restaurant. He woke up, went to school and went straight to the restaurant where would set up shop in the first booth and do his homework. But it wouldn’t be long before he found himself behind the counter, serving up sodas, talking to regulars and falling in love with hospitality.
Fast forward a few years and Demetri would move to Boston for college. He would graduate and then spend some time as an investment banker but something was missing. The community and connection that he felt growing up in a Greek family just wasn’t there. There weren’t even many Greek restaurants in Boston at the time to give him that small taste of home.
“My mom never wanted me to have the life that they did working so hard in the restaurant business. She wanted us to go to school, graduate, which I did, [I] became an investment banker,” says Demetri. “But that wasn't me. It wasn't my passion. I still remembered my childhood memories in the restaurant growing up, the connections I made, the values, the traditions.”
Burned out by the 9-5 grind, he rediscovered his passion in hospitality. He started working in restaurants again and then in 2017, he took the leap and started Greco.
Not for Food, But for Life
In ancient Greece, hospitality towards travelers and guests was considered a sacred duty and a sign of one's virtue and honor. The god Zeus was believed to punish those who showed inhospitality towards strangers, while those who welcomed guests with kindness and generosity were rewarded with blessings and good fortune.
At Greco, the fast-casual Greek concept has found success because of the Greek concept of “philoxenia” or turning strangers into friends through hospitality. It is a love letter to the foods of Demetri’s childhood - affordable and approachable, blending familiarity with high quality ingredients to elevate it from similar fare.
“It was meant to be parts of my childhood, the foods I grew up with, the street food of Greece and actually give you the nostalgia of going back to Greece from the ambience, from the hospitality and to the flavors and recipe,” says Demetri.
Those nostalgic foods are characterized by bold, rich, and savory flavors that are achieved by combining aromatic herbs and spices with fresh and high-quality ingredients. Olive oil, tomatoes, and feta cheese are staples in Greek cuisine pairing well with a variety of grilled meats and meze, a selection of small dishes served as appetizers or snacks, including tzatziki, dolmades, spanakopita, and feta cheese.
Demetri loves his Greek street food but the success of Greco (four locations and counting!) has enabled him to open additional concepts, Krasi and Bar Vlaha, that keep his creative juices flowing but it always comes back to those warm childhood memories.
“At Krasi and Bar Vlaha, we have traditional Greek rotisseries. We're cooking over a charcoal flame. It reminds me of Greek Easter all the time, it's very nostalgic for me,” says Demetri. “It just reminds me of family, the culture and the fun we had on the Greek Easter just by eating lamb.”
Filotimo is a Greek term that describes an individual's sense of duty and honor towards their family, community, and society as a whole. It is a complex and multifaceted concept that encompasses various virtues, including respect, generosity, hospitality, honesty, and compassion.
It is a term that sums up so much of what Demetri and his restaurants are about.
The future is very bright with Greco looking to expand to new locations, Krasi garnering a 2023 James Beard Award nomination and Bar Vlaha recently opening its doors.
But Demetri assures us that he never loses sight of the guests that help make this dream a reality.
"[CaterCow customers] are not seeing us in person but the love and passion that goes into every meal we deliver is there,” says Demetri. “If we could have a conversation with everybody, we make food for it, we'd love to, but the same level of care and love goes into everything, whether you see us or not."
This may not have been the life that Demetri’s parents had wanted for him but they may not have had a choice. This is the life that Demetri was born for.