NEW YORK – James Paloumbis, a long-time New York City restaurateur, is not letting these uncertain times squash his goals of opening two new restaurants: Chipskates, a secluded nighttime lounge in the backyard of the popular houndstooth-clad Astoria coffee house, Gossip Coffee, and iSouvlaki, a casual quick-serve Greek grill in the East Village. Both launched in July, with the later debuting on July 28. Paloumbis plans to scale iSouvlaki and envisions three to five locations across the city.
While Paloumbis’ previous restaurant ventures have targeted more spend-happy urbane dinner and brunch crowds, Chipskates and iSouvlaki both offer affordable dishes and beverages with nothing on the menu over $20, and most under $10.
Paloumbis has over 20 years of hospitality experience and was also the man behind Flatiron’s Greek eatery Merakia and MexiBBQ, which had locations in Astoria and the Upper East Side. Important to note — at both iSouvlaki and Chipskates safety is a top priority; the later even hired a doorman to ensure that overcrowding is not an issue.
Paloumbis spoke to The National Herald about opening the new restaurants and about his Greek heritage.
TNH: What made you decide that now was the time to open two new restaurants?
James Paloumbis: Opening a restaurant is a challenge to begin with and if you add a pandemic it becomes a great scenario for a Netflix Original. iSouvlaki was something I was working on before the COVID-19 outbreak. It happens to be a great concept since souvlaki is something we always enjoyed in Greece for thousands of years and souvlaki was the food that helped us through difficult times. Chipskates is a speakeasy cocktail bar that I felt was needed given the rules around social distancing and my interest in utilizing the space I had at one of my existing establishments, Gossip Coffee. It’s hidden in the backyard, with appropriate social distancing measures available. We have safety and sanitization procedures to keep our staff and guests safe while enjoying a cocktail or a small snack.
TNH: How are your other restaurants doing during these difficult times?
JP: We have another restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron district called Merakia. We had to close it on March 14 in response to the pandemic. It remains closed but hopefully it will reopen in the next few months. Break Bar in Long Island City, Queens, is still closed for now as well. We are looking forward to reopening it with safety in mind for our staff and guests.
TNH: What can customers look forward to most at the new restaurants?
JP: iSouvlaki guests get to safely enjoy Greek food that is made authentically and at an affordable price. It serves as a great original introduction to Greek food culture for those less familiar. We made sure to use top quality ingredients, even with such a low price point. The same can be said about Chipskates. Our guests can safely enjoy cocktails, wine, beer with their friends and nothing is watered down to cut costs. I take a lot of pride in what we put out at my establishments. At all of my businesses, the hardest customer to please is me.
With the pandemic in mind, guests can also expect top notch cleaning. We are constantly sanitizing each space and offer hand sanitizers placed throughout. I also have a cleaning service company (NYC clean team) and we use electrostatic equipment to spray and sanitize all areas, making us that much safer so our guests can enjoy a night out with their friends.
TNH: What are some of your favorites from the menu?
JP: At iSouvlaki you can have some great experiences based on what you are craving. Since the menu is this small you can experience everything within a few visits. Our horiatiki salad and marouli is a must for everyone. We have New York strip steak that we offer in a pita or a platter; this is a level of quality you’d usually get at a steakhouse. I also love the fried calamari, chicken and pork souvlaki. Our vegetable kefte is really good as well. As you might be able to tell, I love the whole menu. I’m glad I get to try everything throughout the week.
TNH: Where in Greece is the family from?
JP: My parents met in New York so I was born here in New York City. My father, Hercules, is from Kefalonia and my mother, Theodora, comes from Kozani Siatista. We moved to Greece when I was five years old and was raised in Athens Halandri. I then came back to New York when I was 18 and I've lived here since. My parents stayed in Greece.
TNH: How does your Greek heritage inform your life and work?
JP: Greek heritage is what has kept my journey in the hospitality industry exciting. Being Greek means hospitality, loyalty, respect, courtesy and common sense. These values helped me create partnerships with my teammates and, at the same time, give my guests a memorable experience when they visit my establishments.
Chipskates is located at 37-04 30th Avenue in Astoria, phone: 718-440-8792.
iSouvlaki, 139 East 12th Street in Manhattan, phone: 212-401-5747.