Niko Niko’s Greek & American Cafe has come a long way since its first day of business 35 years ago when the owners cashed out for the evening with a measly $15 profit. In 1977, Chrisanthios Fetokakis and his wife Eleni had opened the walk-up window shop on Montrose in a former gas station with just $50 and warnings that they would lose everything.
“They had a different feeling,” recalls son Dimitri. “They saw a gold mine.”
Business slowly grew through the 1980s, with Chrisanthios making sporadic breaks for Vegas and Greece, while Eleni ran the restaurant with her children.
Dimitri bought the restaurant from his mother in 1997 and expanded the size of the Montrose store several times over. The original recipes continuously make Houston’s “Best of” lists and have been featured on the Food Network’s Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives.
“The best part of it is all the different people you become friends with, says Dimitri. “From plumbers to executives, you meet everyone and you share stories and sometimes create great friendships. I have become part of families from people I have met in Niko Niko’s. Parents have asked me to baptize their children and customers have asked me to be in their weddings.”
The success could not have been achieved without the work ethic of his mother, who has earned more than 17 of Marvin Zindler’s Blue Ribbon Awards for clean kitchens. Dimitri has affectionately referred to her as a tyrant. “If someone isn't doing something right,” he says. “She follows behind giving orders and corrections. This is nothing new. She's operated like this since the beginning.”
Having declined opportunities to expand for decades, Dimitri recognized the newly redesigned Market Square Park as the perfect opportunity for a second location. And the 375-foot downtown location opened in August 2010 with plenty of fanfare and noise - literally –as Mayor Annise Parker joined Dimitri and other community leaders in smashing plates in traditional Greek fashion to commemorate the park and restaurant opening.
The small building reaches back to its roots with a sidewalk café-style restaurant reminiscent of the original walk-up shop that his parents began.
The downtown location touts a pared-down version of the flagship’s menu. It focuses on to-go foods perfect for residents and on-the-move business folk; breakfast selections; and European café-style coffee, espresso, frappes and desserts. There’s even complimentary treats for four-legged friends visiting the park’s dog runs nearby.
These days, people lovingly refer to Dimitri as the “unofficial mayor of Market Square,” greeting residents by name and looking for new ways to bring something special to the dining experience. Customers can count on playing backgammon in the park, Sangria Saturdays or just an insanely delicious breakfast pita to kick off their day. Opa!