TAMPA, FL – “People are tired of being locked up in their homes for so long," Andreas Salivaras, owner of the famous Mykonos restaurant in Tarpon Springs, told The National Herald. His restaurant, as his sign says, serves authentic Greek cuisine which has made it a staple for Greek-Americans who prefer homemade food, but also for all visitors to the "Greek village" looking for traditional flavors.
Following the few months when the restaurant was only open for delivery and pick-up orders, people have returned for sit-down dining in the restaurant’s two designated spaces, though with reduced capacity as allowed by the authorities.
“There is insecurity and uncertainty, which is why many of our customers who used to come with their whole family, now come to eat, but without their grandparents,” adds Salivaras. “They want to protect them, but when they leave they take food with them for them as well.”
Mykonos over the years has learned how to keep its regular customers and to constantly attract new ones. Salivaras is used to going to the tables, making new acquaintances, and talking about everything.
“There is stress in the world that I see in most of our customers,” he says. “Now, they can go out again to the restaurants, where they can be with friends, talk up close, while otherwise many of them would be forced to be locked in their homes, staring at the TV.”
Despite the strain of these months on the operation of all businesses, Salivaras kept all his staff and did not fire anyone.
Neither did he fire anyone from his second restaurant, more modern in cuisine and decoration, named Dimitri's on the Water, just opposite, run by his son, Dimitris. “We have 20 employees in it and we kept them all,” he says.
This second restaurant, which has tables outside, next to the picturesque Anclote River, had been closed for a long time.
A few blocks from these two restaurants, located on the tourist magnet Dodecanese Boulevard, is the restaurant Mr. Souvlaki, known not only for its delicious and rich souvlakia, but also for the quality of all its food.
During this time, the traffic has been down, as everywhere. “Elsewhere, they leave an empty table between two full ones, according to the coronavirus protection orders,” says the owner, Eleftheria Kikis. “We, in order to show more clearly our interest in the protection of our customers, completely removed half of the tables and seats from the room and put the rest at some distance from each other.”
Until recently, her restaurant operated only for delivery and pick-up orders.
“Now, people are slowly coming out,” she says. “For so long, they missed the close live communication, the sharing of food, the clinking of the glass, the joke at meal time. In our store, we always show our well-known hospitality. It is hard for everyone to hide a smile, behind a mask.”
Kikis also did not dismiss any of her staff during this time. Only the working hours were reduced. The total staff is 20 people.
She also noted that many customers, who used to bring their grandparents with them, now leave them at home so as not to expose them to possible dangers.
“Unfortunately, we are worried, day by day, about what will happen with the pandemic and our businesses,” she said.
On Dodecanese Boulevard, near the statue of the Greek sponge diver, with tables and benches next to the waters of the Anclote River, is The Limani restaurant. A small space, the kitchen takes up most of it. There is no room for customers, who mainly order souvlakia from the window and then sit and eat outside. The dedicated customers say that the souvlakia here are the best they have ever tasted. Owner George Christou, always smiling and benevolent, never reveals the secret recipe.
"Our customers are loyal and they have not stopped coming," he says. "We are a small shop, and people want to help small businesses."
At the beginning of the pandemic and for about four and a half weeks his shop was closed. He had also faced big problems, because he could not find meat in the market.
"When I reopened, I had more orders than before," he adds. "People are worried. One thing I noticed was that they don’t bring their parents with them for food, as they used to, for fear of the coronavirus.”
Christou expresses fears about the course of business, due to the pandemic. "Nobody knows what will happen," he said. "Let us hope the situation changes soon."