Greek Restaurants’ Influence on Alabama City Caught in Film Philoxenia

Εθνικός Κήρυξ

Jessica Chriesman, a Birmingham-based filmmaker, is premiering Philoxenia, a short documentary featuring Birmingham's Greek-owned restaurants, at the Southern Foodways Alliance virtual 2021 Spring Symposium. Photo: Courtesy of Jaysen Michael

Filmmaker Jessica Chrieseman knew right away when she decided to make a documentary about restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama that she'd go to those which changed the foodscape and were beloved: Greek eateries. It's called Philoxenia.

She was asked by the Southern Foodways Alliance to create a film for their 2021 Spring Symposium and told Southern Living that, “I immediately thought of the Greek restaurateurs who have fed Birmingham since its infancy.”

She wanted to know too why Greek immigrants took the chance to come to a country where they didn't speak the language and were often starting from the floor up, guided by their guts – and cooking skills and Greek food. She wanted to know how they could blend into a region with its own inimitable foods.

The film includes people and places like Beba and Tasos Touloupis, owners of Ted's Restaurant which serves southern dishes along with Greek; Demetri Nakos of Demetri's BBQ in suburban Homewood; Johnny's Restaurant, owned by Tom Hontzas – four times nominated for Best Chef South; Lee Pantazis' Gus' Hot dogs; The Bright Star in Bessemer, and George Sarris' The Fish Market.