CULTURE

Three new eateries hit the spot

A US-style burger joint, a little shop specializing in simple but delicious freshly fried “loukoumades,” and a chain of stores where you can pick up donuts and “piroskis” with a variety of sweet and savory fillings are three businesses that have changed the city’s culinary map lately. 

These ventures are just a few of the perhaps surprisingly high number of food retail enterprises that began operating in 2012. According to data released by Endeavor Greece, 10,003 of the 42,347 new businesses started in 2012 were in the food retail sector.

The Hot Hot Burger Bar on downtown Kolokotroni Street fills up from late afternoon to the early morning hours, but it’s not just the uplifting rock music and 1960s Americana that have seen this eatery rocket to star status among its Athens peers.

“I think the reason behind its success is the highly competitive prices which never exceed 4 euros; even a beer costs just 1.50 euros,” said one patron, who added, “That’s a rarity in Athens these days.”

Another Hot Hot Burger Bar plus is that the restaurant is open around the clock, catering to those working in the vicinity (in and around Syntagma Square) and shoppers, as well as those gearing up for a night on the town.

Lukumades, which opened at 21 Aeolou Street in central Athens just a couple of months ago, has proved a hit with young and old alike, who all queue patiently for the sweet offerings inside. Grandmothers go for the traditional loukoumades (deep-fried mini-donuts drizzled with honey), while younger customers ask for the next-generation options, which include a praline and walnut combo.

“The idea was to promote a familiar product in a fresh way,” said Nikos Isaiadis, one of the store’s three owners. Customers are lured by the smell of cinnamon and honey. The reasonable prices, which start at 2.40 euros, keep them coming back for more. “We serve the loukoumades in small trays of 12 to 14 pieces, which are usually shared by two people,” said Isaiadis. The store is open for business throughout the day, as the Greek-style beignets serve as the perfect accompaniment to morning coffee or a delicious dessert.

While loukoumades are a traditional Greek treat, they have never been viewed as a daily staple the same way as their bigger cousin, the donut, has in the US. But that might be set to change: The Nanou Donuts chain established its reputation last year, before spreading to just about every Athenian neighborhood and a number of cities across the country. “Up until recently I was only doing wholesale, but in the last three years many people had been visiting my workshop to buy donuts; they appreciated buying a quality product at a very low price,” said Yiannis Nanouris, a food chemist who has been specializing in donut production since 1978.

As the Greek crisis deepened, a number of people close to Nanouris encouraged him to venture into retail. Managed by people eager to work hard amid the growing recession, the first Nanou Donuts stores opened with rules set out by the donut specialist: The stores would only operate for two-and-a-half hours daily and sell fresh products supplied by Nanouris. The outlets were authorized to sell only sweet donuts and savory piroskis.

“While listening to the preplan, those renting out the stores believed the ventures were set to fail; they were certain they were about to lose their rent money,” Nanouris said. “I ended up acting as the guarantor.”   

Nanouris does not demand franchise rights, but asks his 100 partners in Attica to stick to the quality controls he has established. These include selling freshly baked pastries and discarding leftovers from the day before.

“These are the kind of rules that can be followed by our partners in Athens due to proximity,” he said.