After sitting dormant since last September, the restaurant that kick-started the urban renaissance at Lyndale Av. and Lake St. in Minneapolis 38 years ago is back in business.
It’s Greek To Me has quietly reopened its doors, with a slightly altered name — it’s now It’s Greek To Me Taverna E Parea — and some familiar names in the ownership suite.
The reborn operation is a partnership with original co-owner Alkis Arambadjis, his nephew Gelli Arambadjis and longtime It’s Greek To Me employee Erik Johnson.
Their landlord is the restaurant’s other original co-owner, Argyrios Arambadjis, Alkis’ brother. The siblings hail from Salonika, Greece. Along with their spouses, they opened the restaurant in 1982. Over the years, they expanded its original storefront footprint, eventually adding one of the Twin Cities’ most attractive outdoor dining venues.
The Arambadjis family sold the business in 2016 to spouses Nick and Athena Karos. When the Karoses called it quits, Johnson and his partners saw an opportunity.
“Alki and I had talked about opening a small place, and we were looking at spaces,” he said. “Then this came along, and we brought in Gelli.”
It was a no-brainer that the trio would retain the restaurant’s well-known name.
“We wanted to pay homage to that name, because it’s been there for so long, and it’s such a pillar of the community,” said Johnson. “But we added on ‘Taverna E Parea’ to emphasize that it’s going to be slightly different. The made-from-scratch recipes are the same, the hospitality is the same and the relationship with the community is the same. We want to just improve upon a good thing.”
The focus on parea is simple: it’s the Greek word for “company.” Translation: there’s a new emphasis on shared platters, served family-style.
“We want to bring people together to talk, and to eat, and to share,” said Johnson. “That element of the restaurant was always there, but we want to emphasize it with a more accessible and affordable menu.”
The opening did not go as planned. It was originally scheduled for April, but the coronavirus pandemic intervened.
With a limited staff — basically, the ownership and a server — the kitchen started serving takeout in early May.
When Gov. Tim Walz announced that limited outdoor dining could resume on June 1, the plan was to ramp up the staff — cooks, servers, a dishwasher — and debut the restaurant’s appealing off-the-sidewalk patio.
That strategy was sidelined after the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. The restaurant’s windows were boarded up, and the kitchen turned to making gyro sandwiches to feed the volunteers cleaning up the neighborhood.
Last Friday, the plywood came down and the patio quietly reopened. Following new state guidelines, the dining room — limited to 50 % capacity — debuted on Wednesday.
“Yesterday we had quite a few people inside, and on the patio,” said Johnson. “It’s nice to get back to a sense of normalcy, whatever that is. We’re just putting one foot in front of the other, and we’ve been getting a lot of help. If this wasn’t a family situation, I don’t know how we ever would have made it. It’s nice to be able to stick together, and do the best that we can.”
The restaurant is serving lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday.
“We’re ramping up the menu, a step at a time,” said Johnson. “Someone gave me a great analogy. They said, ‘It’s not a light switch, it’s a dial.’ You don’t just switch it on, you have to slowly turn it up.”