Indianapolis restaurateur Taki Sawi arrived from Greece about 15 years ago with just one objective—to operate his own
Today, his Santorini Greek Kitchen in Fountain Square is one of the near-southeast-side neighborhood’s flagship establishments.
Within the restaurant industry, though, Sawi's reputation has grown far beyond Indianapolis, now that he’s been honored with an American Dream Award.
He and his wife Jeanette, who nominated him, traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to accept the prestigious honor from the National Restaurant Association.
Sawi, 44, was one of three winners of the award, which recognizes individuals from diverse backgrounds who, through hard work and determination, have realized their American dream. The association presents the honor every two years.
“I was dreaming about opening my own restaurant since I was 14 years old,” he said. “And we did it here in this country. And that’s what it’s all about.”
Following the death of his parents, Sawi left his native Egypt to help support his extended family in Jordan. He worked seasonal restaurant jobs in several countries, developing cooking experience and leadership skills.
He met his American wife at the restaurant in Greece while waiting on her table. Simple banter led to a date and, ultimately, marriage.
Sawi arrived in Indianapolis in 1995 and opened Santorini on Shelby Street in 2001. But, less than two years later, he outgrew the cramped quarters and relocated to larger space on nearby Prospect Street.
He purchased the building, which features his 230-seat restaurant, a banquet facility and full bar.
“Santorini is one of the great success stories in our neighborhood,” said Mark Stewart, president of Southeast Neighborhood Development Inc.
Patrons flock to the restaurant from all over Indianapolis, Sawi said, because of the “excellent food and great service.”
Indeed, the Urbanspoon Web site shows that 84 percent of 387 visitors to Santorini who cast a vote on whether they like the restaurant or not in fact favored it.
A reviewer boasts that Santorini is one of the best eateries in town for Mediterranean cuisine. Another says it is so Greek and lovely that one doesn’t notice the “ridiculously” blue interior.
After Jeanette submitted Sawi’s story to the restaurant association, he received a letter congratulating him on being chosen a winner of the American Dream Award.
That was followed by a crew who came to his restaurant to shoot a videotape and snap photographs.
“Personally, I was surprised,” Sawi said. “To me, it is a big award.”