INSIDE DISH: Real estate deals central to success for Santorini

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Inside Dish

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.


Santorini Greek Kitchen
1417 E. Prospect St.
(317) 917-1117
Concept: Greek and Mediterranean cuisine
Founded: 2001 (current location in 2003)
Owners: Taki and Jeanette Sawi
Executive chef: Taki Sawi
Start-up costs: $150,000 in original location at 1112 Shelby St.
Sales: $671,000 (2008); $711,000 (2009)
Seating: About 200 (135 in dining room; 50 in upstairs banquet room; and 15-20 outdoors).
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.
Good to know: Taki Sawi was one of three winners this year of the National Restaurant Association's American Dream Award.

    Santorini's is so good I introduced it to my family! (which says alot -if you know my familY!) I am so happy to see a successful business that isn't a chain! I wish it was closer to the Broad Ripple area - I'd walk over for supper every night!
  • Truly great Greek food
    I am very familiar with Santorinin Greek Kitchen and its fare! You could say that I used to be a regular until I moved to Charleston, SC. I've had Greek food in a number of big cities and, quite frankly, none have compared to Taki's!! It's not JUST the food, though, that keeps a person coming back for more! The atmosphere, the service and servers, the desire by the staff and owners to give the customer a fantastic dining experience, those all come into play at Santorini! I'm proud of the Sawis and what they've done in and for their community as well as for their loyal customers! Great food from great people! Thanks Jeanette and Taki!
  • This isn't youtube, but...
    This isn't youtube, so I should leave the hateful comments alone, but I'd like to say that you are welcome to not eat the food and shut up. Besides that, there's also the fact that he is from Greece. It's not like Taco Bell, where somebody is making a cheap imitation of some other culture's food. He's from Greece; it's real Greek food. If you don't like it, it's your taste, not the food.
  • Way to go, Taki!
    One of the best restaurants in Indianapolis, and the owners are extremely personable and nice. The food is absolutely delicious. I am surprised someone would say otherwise, but to each his own.
  • Jack doesn't know Jack
    Awesome potatoes and green beans! Best Greek food in town!!!
  • Jack is wrong
    Some of the best green beans and potato's I ever had
  • Greek Beans
    Taki's green beans are done greek style...never had an issue with the beans or the greek potatoes...I've always found the meals to be as good as any Greek food I've had, including my trip in October to Santorini, Greece
  • Couldn't Disagree with "Jack B" More!
    The food quality at Santorini is EXCELLENT!! The potatoes and green beans are traditional dishes served in the traditional style. Perhaps they are not to everyone's taste, but they are delicious to me! And, anyone who hasn't tasted Taki's wonderfully prepared fresh fish dishes is really missing a treat! Not to mention the lamb...mmmm! Time to make reservations!
  • Santori food quality
    Santorini has a great atmosphere, but much of the food is gag quality. Green beens from a can, potatoes drenched in butter and spices. The side dishes are not fit for consumption and Sawi needs to wake up and serve better quality food.

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