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Santorini owner realizes 'American Dream' with national honor

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Indianapolis restaurateur Taki Sawi arrived from Greece about 15 years ago with just one objective—to operate his own business.

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.”
 

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  • BEST
    Im hooked for sure, loved everthing about it.
  • Hurrah and Congratulations
    Santorini's is a wonderful place to eat and spend time with friends. The food is fabulous and the staff is superb. This is definitely a gem in Fountain Square. Taki and Jeanette deserve congratulations! I've been going there for years.
  • Bravo Taki!
    Your success and reputaation mirros the observation, "the harder you work, the luckier you get"So far, so good, but the best is yet to be for you.I'm delightfed for your well-earned recognition.
  • WONDERFUL PLACE AND WONDERFUL PEOPLE
    Every since they first opened Santorini's has been my favorite. The food is wondersul, Jeanette is a great hostesss, and the staff are great. Don't miss this outstanding place for lunch or dinner or both.
  • Congratulations!
    This reaffirms my love of our country when someone can come to our country with nothing and make it a better place to live and eat. While food was Taki's first love, his love of his customers and community is evident. Jeanette and Taki always strive to give and be the best and they have succeeded! Way to go, Aunt Jane
  • Congrats
    Long live Santorini's fish kabobs! Congratulations!!

    Barry Crist
  • Lasting Relationships
    I have had the privilege of knowing Jeanette and Taki for many years. My husband and I are original patrons from the first restaurant. This couple has not only worked very hard on making it in the restaurant business, but have worked tirelessly in the "people" business. The Sawi's do not "scrimp" on either quality or quantity to save a few dollars. Their goal is always to make everyone leave with a smile and they have accomplished this 100 percent.

    The award is well-deserved. Taki and Jeanette you just keep getting better.

    Bernie
  • Lasting Relationships
    I have had the privilege of knowing Jeanette and Taki for many years. My husband and I are original patrons from the first restaurant. This couple has not only worked very hard on making it in the restaurant business, but have worked tirelessly in the "people" business. The Sawi's do not "scrimp" on either quality or quantity to save a few dollars. Their goal is always to make everyone leave with a smile and they have accomplished this 100 percent.

    The award is well-deserved. Taki and Jeanette you just keep getting better.

    Bernie
  • Cheers to Taki and Jeanette
    Opa! We are so thrilled to see Santorini receiving such a well deserved award. Bo and Ellie will surely want your autographs the next time we come in for dinner. Congratulations and see you soon.
  • Award Winning!
    Santorini Greek Kitchen is successful because with every delicious entree or dish delivered comes a full-sized helping of Taki and Jeanette's love for their patrons- and for their restaurant business. We patrons return the heartfelt feelings. Santorini's is successful not because the owners were trying to capitalize on a niche- they are successful because they deliver quality, good-tasting food at a reasonable price and with a good service staff. Some Carmel restaurateurs could sure learn a lesson or two from Santorini's accomplished owners. Congrats, Jeanette and Taki!!
  • Congratulations!
    I love Santorini Greek Kitchen - so happy to see them win this award! Congratulations, Taki and Jeanette!

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