CULTURE

Novel downtown projects revitalize city center

What if, for a change, we took a look at the places opening up for business instead of those closing their doors? While empty window displays are still hogging the headlines — bad news is juicier after all — a cool-headed stroll around downtown Athens demonstrates that alongside a large number of stores which have shut down are new business ventures such as small restaurants and cultural venues, most defined by a particularly creative touch.

Every time I notice a new store these days I make a point of pausing to check it out in a way that I never did before. A new beginning is always a new beginning, but it?s quite different making a fresh start nowadays, under the current circumstances. So now I take a moment to observe the space and the people, trying to imagine the owner?s joy, expectations and agony. Most of all, I admire them for taking such a huge risk in the middle of the storm.

Lenio Myrivili, a lecturer at the University of the Aegean, and her husband, John Higgins, who hails from San Francisco, certainly belong to this category. Since October they have been running Mama Roux on Aeolou Street, near Aghia Irini Square, where another two ventures, the ambitious Taylor Made and the open-hearted Rooster, are also open for business.

Mama Roux is a friendly, unpretentious spot for dining and a drink which also features a large basement for music events. 

?We made a conscious decision to set up shop in the city center,? Myrivili told Kathimerini. ?We were angered by the center?s decay and so we were interested in the broader downtown area.?

In the end the two investors came across two old underwear stores. Unfortunately, despite all the grand talk about creating business incentives and the much-hyped revitalization of the city center, bureaucracy managed to push the couple?s good spirits to breaking point. Today, however, they feel vindicated as Athenians have embraced the new venture.

?We like the fact that this part of Aeolou Street has now been granted a new lease on life, because the area was becoming deserted at night. And there?s another thing: This idea of developing something from scratch gave us an incredible amount of energy, especially during such a difficult period.?

Meanwhile, Olga, Dimitris and Argyris are the proud owners of a new Cake outlet, an Athens-based pastry chain. The three partners had no prior experience in the patisserie and restaurant business.

?The most important thing in our case is that we are optimists by nature and we didn?t want to get stuck in a rut during such a crucial period. Despite the current adversity, top-quality products, sensible pricing and, above all, our passion for the venture has led to very positive feedback,? said Olga, as a couple of tourists took a look at Cake?s mouthwatering window display on Fokianou Street, just off bustling Ermou.

?In the summer, when things got very busy, there were customers who would have been perfectly happy coming by every day; not just because they liked the sweets, but because we made a point of showing them how eager we were to take care of them. We were constantly with a map in hand.?

Chez Faust

Actor Alekos Sissovitis is one of the three business partners behind Faust, a new multicultural space on Athinaidos Street in Monastiraki. Faust is housed in a completely renovated three-floor neoclassical building which has been operating as a bar and a concert space since October. Another two floors, featuring an exhibition space and a 65-seat theater, are expected to open next year.

Meanwhile, Sephardic and Mediterranean flavors are one of the features of Gostijo, a new restaurant and cultural venue on Aesopou Street, which aims to introduce Athenians to Jewish traditions through and beyond gastronomy.