Nick Saras had waited since the 70s to open a Greek restaurant in Williamsburg, and this year, he got his wish.
After a year and a half of construction, Kephi Greek Kitchen opened in March. Since then, Saras has recreated traditional Greek culture through the food and ambiance.
In the restaurant, a projector flashes Greek films on a wall near the bar; Greek music plays on the radio. The “School of Athens” hangs in the lounge, opposite “The Death of Socrates.” A giant monitor plays continuous footage of Saras’s own olive farm in Greece. Amphoras sit in every windowsill, under quotes from Aristotle and Socrates, printed in English and Greek on the walls.
Saras grew up in Sparta, Greece, and left for Canada in the mid-60s. There he learned to cook and began to work in restaurants. He visited Williamsburg for the first time around 1970 and said he immediately knew it was the place for him; so he moved.
He and his wife, Aphrodite, have lived in the same house ever since.
Saras’s day begins at four in the morning and ends when he leaves work at midnight. He and his wife are almost always in the restaurant.
To Saras, though, the long hours don’t feel like work. He’s careful, particular and always busy, but if his customers leave happy, then he’s done the only thing he wants to do.
That’s why he named the restaurant Kephi, a Greek word for a sudden outburst of joy, something you say in the good times.
And the good times, Saras said, are when he opens the door each morning — or when he visits his farm at the end of each year.
There, he said he feels like a teenager again. He’s the first up and the last to leave. He watches every step of the process, as the olives go from their trees, to the press, to packaging and, finally, to the restaurant. Kephi only uses their own olive oil, the signature ingredient in all their dishes.
The restaurant is a butter-free zone, said Saras’s son Demitrios — one of three sons who works in the restaurant, along with a daughter-in-law, and seven grandchildren.
Demitrios said the restaurant isn’t often a place for him to relax, especially when his father arrives so early, but working with his family is a blessing. He and his brothers have master’s degrees. They could leave and work somewhere else, but they stay together because that’s what family means to them.
The family has also owned the Richmond Road steakhouse and seafood restaurant Seafare for 40 years, but they all grew up with Greek food. For Saras, serving it to the public has been a dream come true.
Saras and his family have brought Greece to Williamsburg, through food, culture and lots of olive oil. They have made their customers smile with specialty dishes and their desserts, all handmade by Saras’s wife. They have stayed, and worked, together as a family.
“It’s his heart,” Demitrios said of his father. “There’s an energy here; what we do is not work.”
It’s a positive energy, an outburst of joy, a reminder of the good times.
Check it out
Kephi Greek Kitchen, located at 1635 Richmond Road, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. You can reach them by phone at 757-378-5780.
Petersen can be reached by phone at 757-345-8812 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.