To describe how authentically Greek Olympia Kebob Dwelling & Taverna is, co-proprietor George Nicholas points to the restaurant’s seating: rows of aged, sawed-in-half picket church pews. It can be not only the reality that they arrived from some of St. Louis’ oldest Greek Orthodox Church buildings — it really is how they were acquired.
“Again in the day, my father would journey all-around with this old Greek Orthodox priest who was so large he experienced to take the driver’s seat out of the car and deal with something up so the priest would fit,” Nicholas suggests. “They’d go to all these diverse churches that were being closing their doors, and the priest would trade relics, like all these saints’ bones and things. He traded some of them for these pews they were being covered in six coats of pistachio-green-colored paint when my father bought them, and he had to strip them and lower them in 50 percent.”
If Olympia’s booths could chat, they would explain to the story of how a humble creating of three storefronts rose to turn into just one of the city’s most beloved bastions of Greek delicacies. However, the prologue of Olympia goes back again much further, all the way to the smaller village of Kardis in Rhodes, the place Nicholas’ grandfather lived until eventually the Italian and German invasion of Greece in the early 1940s. Fleeing with only a couple drachma in his pocket, he landed in St. Louis and crafted a existence for his spouse and children, creating his dwelling as the owner of an worldwide marketplace on DeBaliviere Avenue as nicely as a creating on McCausland Avenue that experienced a handful of companies jogging out of it and an apartment in the back.
Nicholas’ father, George Sr., worked alongside his grandfather at the marketplace, but when it came time for the patriarch to retire, his son desired to do a thing diverse. Encouraged by the Greek tavernas he’d usually visited in Rhodes, George Sr. made the decision to open up a cafe in 1 of the vacant storefronts in his dad’s McCausland building. He known as upon his aunt Marietta, who experienced a popularity as the prepare dinner of the household, and alongside one another they arrived up with a menu of the standard Greek dishes she realized to cook in Rhodes and consistently ready in her residence kitchen area.
In 1980, they established up store in the north fifty percent of the creating as a cafeteria-type operation and welcomed their 1st attendees. There had been no menus, no bar and no marketing — only a simple steam desk filled with Marietta’s specialties and a modest dining area that was speedily packed with properly-wishers from their church who arrived to assistance their new endeavor.
Sooner or later, George Sr. required to develop into the building’s adjacent room, a very well-frequented laundromat. Even so, one day, immediately after an uncouth patron answered nature’s connect with in one particular of the dryers, George Sr.’s father made the decision he’d experienced ample and agreed to let his son convert it into a bar for Olympia.
“You may not want to print that,” Nicholas laughs. “Let us just say that my grandfather obtained truly disappointed right after the male did that and put up a indication on the front door of the laundromat cursing in Greek that he’d experienced enough and was closing.”
George Sr. took more than, obtaining fixtures — this sort of as lights from the Arcade Setting up downtown and a pre-Prohibition men’s clothing keep — from outdated St. Louis buildings and dwelling in the condominium that was eventually also transformed. He ran “the Olympia,” as it is fondly named by the relatives and regulars, until his passing in 2018.
Throughout his run, the cafe endeared alone to St. Louis diners for its loved ones ambiance, classic Greek specialties and saganacki, or flaming cheese, that Nicholas claims commenced out as a gimmick and promptly became the matter folks arrived in to working experience. Even when Marietta retired, the food items good quality did not skip a conquer many thanks to her mentoring of longtime staff Nexhat Dullovi, who carried on her traditions. When it arrived time for him to retire, he passed on what he understood to his cousin and the restaurant’s present chef, Bashir. Nicholas credits their fierce determination to trying to keep Marietta’s culinary legacy alive with the restaurant’s continued achievement.
However, Nicholas is aware of that the Olympia has endeared by itself to St. Louis diners for much additional than its meals. He thinks a lot of its reliable attractiveness is for the reason that it has grow to be this kind of a staple of people’s lives and that there is nostalgia at do the job. He’s found numerous generations arrive by means of, and he believes that momentum feeds on alone.
“People today will say that their grandma introduced them below, and now they are bringing their youngsters,” Nicholas states. “We’ve transformed pretty minimal. The recipes are generally the exact same. The décor is constant. I assume that familiarity is what delivers individuals back. When they walk via all those doors, it really is unchanged from the working day they proposed to their wife here. We have so numerous tales like that. I have even experienced a male scatter his late wife’s ashes in the bushes out front.”
Nicholas, who owns Olympia with his brother, Chris, and his sisters (who are silent associates), Katherine and Sophia, feels the duty that arrives with the cafe occupying these kinds of a distinctive area in its diners’ hearts. He says that, even as a young kid bussing tables, he generally realized that the place was his future, and he carries on to embrace that, balancing the previous and the future. Though he and his brother hold the cafe up to date and suitable, he understands that the worst matter they could do would be to change the critical character of a position that has this sort of a distinctive id. The two employees and regulars alike have anticipations about the restaurant, and he claims it is a privilege to be in a position to deliver for them.
“I have my times when I speculate what I am doing and whether I am residing out my grandfather’s aspiration, but I am quite grateful they have afforded me this possibility,” Nicholas suggests. “My grandfather is a single of all those stories of an individual who arrived to American with 15 cents of drachma in his pocket and finished up making generational prosperity. It was incredibly challenging, and I have to are living up that and the expectations every person has of what the Olympia is intended to be. A whole lot of that is striving not to change far too significantly persons do not like change. In some cases there are far better approaches to do something, but if the old and acquainted and comfy also operates, you do that mainly because you will not want to mess with the recipe for achievements.”
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