Niko Niko’s in Montrose, Houston, was one of the only places open in the neighborhood, supplying customers with a much-needed meal during the recent weather disaster. Houstonians were saying, “it’s 27 degrees inside our house. It’s warmer outside than it is inside; this is worse than Harvey.”
The restaurant was already dealing with so many issues just to open up and having to boil their water, which means they could only offer a limited menu. The two Constantines, Kostas Veliadis and Kostas Pappas, who are part of what makes the restaurant great, spoke to The National Herald.
Kostas Veliadis was born in Athens, Greece, on February 29th, a raw deal for birthday celebrations.
His dad passed when he was ten years old and his mom had six sisters (no brothers), so strong women raised him.
He grew up listening to the radio and at an early age discovered that he had the inclination (he doesn't know if he has talent) to write poetry, and one day he hopes that he will publish a book of poems.
Veliadis has very fond memories of vacations in the Greek islands, with Hydra being his favorite one, and up to this day, it is his favorite corner on the planet and the spot where he wants to eventually settle. At this time he lives in Houston, Texas, and considers it the best place he has ever called a second home.
The National Herald: Walk us through your work journey.
Kostas Veliadis: I started working in construction at the age of 18. I was never fast, and I was never good either. The company I was working for trained me in Germany. Working with Germans, I consider the best school I could ever go to when it comes to discipline, meeting deadlines, and being detail oriented. After that, I did construction in Kenya, Ghana, and Hungary. I never liked construction work, yet it was my passport to see the world.
When I came to the United States I decided to study construction technologies, and I got advanced credit for half of my classes.
Then I started working at a Greek restaurant, which I thought would be the most temporary thing I would ever do in my life. I just fell in love with it, and 16 years later, I am still here running the catering department for a very successful Greek Restaurant.
The first year I took over, I quadrupled business, and the next year I doubled it.
TNH: Tell us about your managerial skills. What is the appeal of your work?
KV: I love working with people. I see everyone as a coworker. Although I am good at customer service, I believe that for the customers to be happy, you need to make sure that the people you manage are happy. Then satisfied customers will follow.
There is a saying that goes: “Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan.”
When I make mistakes, I like taking responsibility for them, making them my own, and then correcting them. That’s what I expect from the people working with me – seeing a conscious effort to fix things that went wrong and not making the same mistakes over and over again.
TNH: Houston just went through a rough patch, did the restaurant close?
KV: Both this time with the snowfall and the freezing temperatures and back during Hurricane Harvey, the restaurant closed for only one day. Thanks to the amazing team we have that consists of dedicated and hardworking people, we continued serving the community with the smallest interruption possible. The greatest reward for us was to see the smiles on our guests’ faces and the heartfelt ‘thank you’s’ we got for providing a hot meal to them.
There was a sense of responsibility to exhaust every opportunity that we have to be open.
TNH: How has the law of attraction applied in your life?
KV: Most of the time, it hasn’t. On a more serious note, I am blessed to find myself in situations that I just belong to and with people that I can relate to.
Meeting the restaurant owner I work for was a blessing, and it is the best thing that has happened to me in this country after the birth of my second son.
TNH: What is your life’s motto?
KV: My life’s motto is related to hospitality. “Hospitality is not an industry. It is culture. It is what your mom taught you, and it embraces people you have never met before.” Working in the restaurants for 16 years, I just do what I saw my mother doing when entertaining her guests.
After graduating from the hotel restaurant management program and the culinary arts (both with the highest honors), I realized that hospitality is in you. It is not something you can learn. I don’t feel that I am interacting with clients, but with guests, I feel honored to be taking care of.
Kostas Pappas was born and raised in Kifissia, just outside of Athens, Greece. In 1998, at age 19, after high school, he chose to go to the United States to pursue his academic dreams and had an extended family in the Houston area who opened their home.
TNH: How did your American experience begin?
Kostas Pappas: I earned an Associate degree from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, TX, a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and an MBA in International Business & Finance from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX.
I also worked for the family business, L&D Upholstery, and grew to Vice President of Operations and General Manager.
Although my initial intention was to complete my studies and return to Greece, I fulfilled my Greek military duties while still calling the United States home. I attended Boot Camp in Kozani, and the remainder of training was in Ioannina, where I guarded the camp and trained in shooting and fitness.
Upon returning to the United States, I met the love of my life. We married in 2011 and started our family in 2015.
TNH: What did you do businesswise?
KP: After our little man was born, a great career opportunity came my way.
For the last five years, I have been Restaurant Manager at the original Niko Niko’s Greek & American Café Montrose, where I get to use my skills and follow my passion.
Some of the responsibilities I have are ensuring compliance with licensing, hygiene, health, and safety guidelines, promoting and marketing the business, recruiting, training, and supervising staff.
Recently I began to pursue United States citizenship and received my Certificate of Naturalization after the Oath Ceremony on February 11, 2021.
Finally, as both men told The National Herald: “Things can change in a moment. The only real failure is the failure to grow from what we go through and not to make the most of our life.”