Health and Wellness

Looking past the blue and white at Kosta’s Cafe

 -  - 


KostasPhoto.jpg
Kostas Cafe owner Kostas Ioannides is usually spotted sitting in the back corner of his cafe by a window, sipping a cup of coffee or greeting guests to a table. (Courtesy of Mallory Ashcraft)

With its Grecian-style blue and white paint job and cozy appearance, Kostas Cafe is almost hidden in plain sight on Greenville Avenue.

On most days during the hours of lunch and dinner, restaurant owner Kostas Ioannides can be found sitting quietly at a table beside a window in the back corner of the warmly lit dining room, sipping a cup of coffee.

Whenever guests walk through the door, he strides over to welcome them and seats them at a cloth-lined table that perfectly accents the restaurant’s blue and white color scheme. A waiter promptly arrives to take care of them; Ioannides returns to
his table.

While he darts briefly in and out of the nearby kitchen to lend a hand from time to time, Ioannides said that the kitchen staff usually has everything under control.

He began his culinary career preparing seafood at the age of 13, and by 15 was working in a restaurant in his hometown of Florina, Greece.

After serving with the Greek army, he moved to the United States in 1976 at the age of 23.

Ioannides said he worked like a slave at many different restaurants during his first 10 years in Dallas, all the while telling himself that someday it was going to work out.

He was putting in 80 to 90 hours per week at a time when the minimum wage in America was $2.15.

“When you come with no English and no money from another country, the only thing is hard work,” Ioannides said.

The restaurant’s walls are painted a warm butterscotch color and are heavily adorned with paintings and posters of Greek landscapes,
some collected by Ioannides and others given to him by friends and customers returning from their visits to Greece.

The sky blue ceiling doesn’t show even so much as a scorch mark from the saganaki, a popular cheese appetizer flambeed tableside with a lively cry of “opa!”

The restaurant is generally quiet and peaceful, with Greek music playing in the background; depending on the time of day and capacity of the dining room, the music can be anything from loud pop music to softer, traditional music.

It’s a familiar and comfortable scene to Ioannides’ customers. Most are
devoted regulars, some stopping in as often as four to five days a week for the daily lunch specials. Several have been dining at Kostas Cafe for more than
a decade.

“Kostas is like home-cooked Greek food,” said Joe Porter, who has dined
at the restaurant for over 20 years with his wife Patricia and daughter Amanda. “Kostas is like you’re going to his house and eating.”

Ioannides didn’t know when he first set foot in America in 1976 that he would eventually manage his own restaurant.

He had originally tried to get hired as a construction worker, but was told that he wasn’t heavy enough for the job.

After working inside the kitchens of many Dallas restaurants, Ioannides left his job managing a pizza establishment to join his friend Dino Roidopoulos, a then-struggling restaurateur, in owning a restaurant.

They had very little money when they began working together. On Jan. 2, 1987, they renamed their restaurant Kostas Cafe.

After about three years, Roidopoulos split from Kostas Cafe to start his own cake business, called Cheesecake Royale. The company, which now ships desserts all over the country, still supplies Kostas Cafe with fresh cheesecakes every week.

Roidopoulos keeps in touch, too, occasionally stopping by for dinner and an order of
Ioannides’ baklava.

The traditional Greek cuisine at Kostas Cafe has remained much the same over the restaurant’s 27 years in business, which is clearly how Ioannides’ customers like it.

Ioannides brought most of his recipes with him from the restaurant he worked at in Greece and incorporated several others that he learned from his mother.

“Everything is good because we do it here, we start it from scratch,” Ioannides said.

One of his specialties is the classic Greek avgolemono, or egg and lemon soup. The creamy and aromatic broth tastes sweetly of lemon and is balanced with the comforting flavor of homemade chicken stock. Ioannides said many people tell him it is the best soup in Dallas.

Jody Ruiz, who has worked as a waiter at Kostas Cafe for three years, makes it clear that it isn’t just the guests who feel at home in the company of Ioannides.

“I can tell that he is a family man. He treats us all like family. There’s been plenty of times he’s loaned me money, plenty of times he’s asked about my daughter,” said Ruiz.

Ioannides, now nearing 60, lives in Richardson, Texas, with his son Dimitri. His two brothers, sister and nieces and nephews also live in the area.

Ioannides and his sister take turns caring for their 89-year-old mother, Paraskeve, but Ioannides said that she prefers to live with him. Ioannides said his mother calls him at the restaurant on a daily basis, sometimes even twice a day.

Ioannides is the youngest of the three siblings, who are all chefs too. His brothers joined what is now the family business and opened two additional Kostas Cafe locations in Plano, Texas, which offer the same timeless menu.

These days, Ioannides said that he is able to spend less time working and more time with his son and his family.

As far as the future is concerned, he hopes to work for three more years and then travel around the world.

“I like what I’m doing, and I love this country. I think it’s an opportunity for everybody,” Ioannides said. “America is in my opinion still the best country in the whole world.”

comments icon0 comments
0 notes
307 views
bookmark icon

Write a comment...

Your email address will not be published.