A local husband and wife team has brought traditional Greek food to Grand Rapids. Eklectico Greek Kouzina, located in Alger Heights, has always been a dream of Andreas Papangelopoulos and his wife, Nicole Thrasher-Papangelopoulos.
“When we moved back from Greece in 2012, this is what we came back to do,” said Thrasher-Papangelopoulos. “We really had wanted to do a specialty store with imported Greek items, but we don’t really live in the right area for that. So it all came down to finding the right spot and location.”
The location of the restaurant, which is on Eastern Avenue, couldn’t have been a more perfect fit—the couple lives right down the street.
“I grew up here,” Thrasher-Papangelopoulos explained. “When we came back from Greece, the building was for sale and we knew we wanted it. We knew it was small enough to make it look and feel Greek.”
The restaurant definitely looks Greek. Inspired by Mykonos and decorated with distinctive Greek colors—the restaurant is covered in blue and white—with various Greek photographs and artwork hanging on the walls. There are even dried vegetables from the spice market in downtown Athens hanging throughout the restaurant.
The couple met when Thrasher-Papangelopoulos was living overseas. She lived away from the states for 17 years. Seven of them were spent in Greece, where she met her husband, who was born and raised there. “I brought him back to America with me,” she laughed.
The restaurant focuses on authentic Greek food, rather than the Americanized Greek food people might be used to. “They are all pretty much family recipes,” Thrasher- Papangelopoulos said. “But they’re a mix of family recipes and recipes Andreas has adapted and created to how he likes them, and how he wants them to be.”
Because the restaurant focuses on traditional Greek food instead of American-Greek, the presentation of certain dishes may come as a surprise to some customers. “For example, we don’t light our saganaki on fire,” Thrasher-Papangelopoulos said. “Nobody in Greece does that. It’s not even served with bread. We’ve had people say that it’s not authentic, because it’s not lit on fire, or we don’t serve it with bread. It’s the same with Greek salad, because we don’t use greens. If you go to Greece and order a salad, it’s never served with greens.”
Items on the menu include traditional Greek dishes, such as moussaka, pastitsio, saganki and Greek salad. Each dish is made from scratch every day. Although Andreas Papangelopoulos creates traditional Greek food, recipes can vary from region to region, which is why some Greek restaurants do recipes differently.
Customers can still expect traditional flavors in food from Eklectico, such as high-quality olive oil, oregano, lemon and imported salt from Greece.
This is not the couple’s first foray into operating a food-based business. Prior to Eklectico, the pair previously owned Penelope’s Creperie inside the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. When their two-year lease ended in 2016, they decided not to renew.
“The problem with the Downtown Market is that you’re solely dependent on the foot traffic,” Thrasher-Papangelopoulos said. “We couldn’t package our crepes, so we made them to order. We were 100 percent dependent on the foot traffic in the market, and there wasn’t traffic on the weekdays. So when the two years were up, we went to Greece, regrouped, came back and started working on this.”
Although the creperie didn’t work out, the couple is bringing what they learned from that business to the new one. “We learned that customers are the most important part,” Thrasher-Papangelopoulos said. “We had really loyal customers, and then the first month here, people were like ‘oh, we remember you from the creperie.’ They made that connection and they knew it was us. We also told people that we would be doing a Greek restaurant next and to expect that. So we really have a strong, loyal customer base.”
Eklectico is located at 2401 Eastern Ave. It seats 30 people and is open for lunch and dinner. Its hours are from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday. It also offers takeout and catering.
*Main photo by Emily Gilbert