Restaurants and Retail and Real Estate & Retail and Small Business and Inside Dish

INSIDE DISH: Real estate deals central to success for Santorini

May 14, 2010
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Welcome back to IBJ’s new video feature, “Inside Dish: the Business of Running Restaurants.”

Our subject this week is Santorini Greek Kitchen, the realized dream of restaurateur Taki Sawi and one of the flagship eateries in the rebounding Fountain Square neighborhood. Growing up in Greece, Sawi developed a love for restaurants and worked his way up from dishwasher to chef. He met his future wife, Jeanette, in 1996 while she was traveling through Greece. One of his first questions to her: "How would you feel about marrying a restaurateur?"

They made their home in Indiana and opened the first version of Santorini Greek Kitchen in 2001 at 1112 Shelby St. in Fountain Square. The small eatery in a leased space was an instant success, but the experience with the $150,000 startup filled Taki with a certain dread. "Never ever put all your eggs in one basket," he says now, recalling putting both his and his mother-in-law's house up as collateral for loans.

Sawi was convinced that with only 40-some seats he was leaving money on the table. In 2003, community development corporation Southeast Neighborhood Development secured a loan to purchase and renovate a former bar and restaurant space at 1417 E. Prospect St., and signed Sawi to a lease-to-purchase agreement. He later acquired the property for $255,000, according to SEND.

The importance of controlling his location is not lost on Taki. In the video below, he explains how he has purchased several properties directly east of the restaurant to help protect his investment and pave the way for a future 1,000-seat banquet facility.



Bucking a recent trend among some Indy eateries to switch out menu items on a monthly, weekly and even daily basis, Sawi preaches the value of consistency and boasts that his offerings have changed little over nine years. One of the traditional sights in Santorini is the plume of flame swirling over the saganaki cheese appetizer. In the video below, Sawi ignites a dish and explains how a little showmanship sparks more sales.


 

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Santorini Greek Kitchen
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1417 E. Prospect St.
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(317) 917-1117
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www.greekkitchen.dine.com
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Concept: Greek and Mediterranean cuisine
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Founded: 2001 (current location in 2003)
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Owners: Taki and Jeanette Sawi
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Executive chef: Taki Sawi
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Start-up costs: $150,000 in original location at 1112 Shelby St.
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Sales: $671,000 (2008); $711,000 (2009)
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Seating: About 200 (135 in dining room; 50 in upstairs banquet room; and 15-20 outdoors).
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Goals: To open a $2 million freestanding banquet facility on property directly east of the restaurant within the next five years; in the near term, to increase catering business.
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Good to know: Taki Sawi was one of three winners this year of the National Restaurant Association's American Dream Award.
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