It’s 11.30 a.m. and a light drizzle is falling in London’s Paddington district. The Kalimera food truck, named after the Greek word for “good morning,” has just opened and a line is already forming of smartly dressed businessmen, bankers and executives. Some have been at the office since 6 a.m. following the action on international markets so it’s no wonder they’re hungry. This is the crowd that food truck owner Telemaque Argyriou had been aiming for from the start.
A former banker in London’s City district himself, 40-year-old Argyriou made a career U-turn two years ago: “The climate on the markets was good at first, but the entire banking world changed after the events of 2008,” he says of the meltdown that started in the US that year. “In the meantime, because I have spent many years abroad – 23 years in France and the UK – and because I love food, I launched the Kalimera project. The aim was to showcase Greek cuisine in a serious way and how much potential it holds. It combines tradition and the future, and this is how we need to imprint it in people’s minds. London has around 1,000 Italian restaurants right now. Couldn’t it have as many Greek ones?”
Argyriou took all the right steps right at the start of the project to make sure that it was never described in the terms normally used for street food, like greasy or slapdash.
“It’s much cheaper to serve street food,” says Argyriou. “I aimed for mid- and long-term profits so there would be room to grow. Proof of the project’s success is that we have inaugurated the first Kalimera restaurant, at Camden Market.”
Argyriou sought help from experts when he started out. Designer Afroditi Krassa was responsible for the brand name and came up with the logo “Extra Virgin Greek Food.”
“We spent a lot of time looking for the right color,” says the restaurateur. “Greece is not just the blue-and-white cliche. We chose yellow, which evoked warmth, the shining sun and the country’s beautiful neoclassical mansions.”
The kitchen, meanwhile, was put into the capable hands of chef Christos Kardaras, and on a typical day the menu includes sophisticated dishes such as deconstructed moussaka, salad boxes and three types of souvlaki: chicken with avocado tzatziki sauce, lettuce and spicy humus; lamb with mint tzatziki sauce and eggplant puree; and grilled halloumi cheese with pesto yogurt and cherry tomatoes.
What inspired these dishes?
“Back when I worked in the City I would buy lunch every day and eat it in front of my computer. The flavors were really nothing special. I thought, why not make something modern but inspired by Greek gastronomy, which someone can each two or three times a week? Something that will not just stave off their hunger, but will also introduce the element of pleasure,” he says.
Is there a dish that simply didn’t work? “Yes, pastitsio didn’t seem to do anything for the British.”
While Argyriou is excited about Kalimera’s prospects, he was not always encouraged by his friends and family to give up what many saw as a promising career in finance.
“That’s the kind of mentality that I believe explains why so many people are in a rut right now,” says Argyriou. “When crisis strikes, you need to be able to turn things around 180 degrees and also to point out the way to others. Can’t find work in your sector? Then find a sector where there are jobs. Do something else. But make sure you do it well.”
What did it take to launch the business in terms of red tape?
“Half and hour on the Internet and 15 pounds. Maybe the Greek state has something to learn here.”