The Elostta family plans to open a smaller version of Athens Family Restaurant at 2300 Bee Ridge Road in early June
Adel Elostta always dreamed of becoming a restaurant general manager. But there was something about stepping foot into a kitchen that took his breath away.
Try as he might, he only got as far as peeling potatoes and washing dishes when he first took a job on a cruise ship in the early 1990s. His big chance finally came during a six-day at-sea portion of a cruise from Southampton, England to Miami, when the regular kitchen workers went on strike.
Over the course of those six days, he managed to memorize everything he had to do to prepare the entire menu. Impressed, the Greek head chef on the cruise ship decided to take him under his wing as his sous chef. That’s where he learned the ins and outs of Greek cooking.
Eventually, Elostta moved to Nashville where he went on to open two of his own restaurants with his wife, Dina — Athens Family Restaurant and Bellevue Diner. Now, the family is looking for a slower, less hectic lifestyle — and Elostta said they’ve found it in Sarasota.
They sold the Nashville restaurants, moved here and now plan to open a new, smaller version of Athens Family Restaurant at 2300 Bee Ridge Road early next month.
They had a great couple of years in Nashville, Elostta said — the restaurants were popular and they did well. But it made sense to relocate, he said. They love Florida, they were ready for a more low-key lifestyle and Dina has family in the area.
“We had the opportunity to sell the restaurants in Nashville, and we said, ‘Let’s go to Florida, and start a new journey there,'” he said.
Plus, Elostta said Sarasota reminds him of his hometown of Port Said, Egypt.
“The old town was kept. It resembles our homes here in Sarasota. There are palm trees everywhere. It reminds me of home a lot,” he said.
Both Nashville restaurants have been featured on the Food Network. In the episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” featuring Athens Family Restaurant, which is called “Burgers ‘n More,” Elostta shows host and celebrity chef Guy Fieri how he makes his bacon lamb burger, his Soutzoukakia meatballs and Kotopita, which is Greek chicken pie.
The menu is a mixture between American and Greek cuisine. You’ll see American breakfast staples like pancakes, French toast and omelettes and sandwiches like grilled cheese and Reuben, but you’ll also get country-style Greek dishes.
Weekly specials will include Mousaka (traditional Greek casserole with layers of sliced eggplant, ground beef and cheese topped with bechamel sauce and oven-baked), Pastitsio (casserole with baked ziti, sauteed ground beef and cheese topped with bechamel sauce and baked) and chicken lemonato, which will be marinated with olive oil, salt, oregano and lemon juice before it is roasted.
Keeping prices low is a big priority, Elostta said. A Western omelette will cost you $8.25, a vegetable skillet runs for $8.75 and a gyro platter with traditional beef and lamb meat is $8.99 — and that comes with Greek salad, homemade tzatziki, Greek dressing and choice of French fries, creamy potatoes or rice pilaf.
The prices in Florida are actually cheaper on some items because a lot of importers of goods like olive oil and feta cheese are located in-state. In Nashville, it would cost extra to get those same items shipped from importers in Florida to Tennessee, Elostta said.
The Sarasota restaurant will have 40-45 seats, much smaller than the one in Nashville, which could seat 140. They will be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. to start.
It’s a family business. Their 23-year-old son, Angelos, will work at the restaurant, and their 11-year-old daughter, Alyah, will also be around. Their oldest daughter, Katerina, lives in Hawaii with her husband.
“We need to retire here,” Elostta said. “I want to build a network and a community around me.”