Souvlaki GR provides diners with a small slice of Greek heaven. Amid the decorations, music, and food, visitors can feel as though they have been whisked away to a cozy taverna on the beautiful island of Mykonos. This authenticity is not without reason: Tina Plagos, a first-generation Greek-American who owns Souvlaki GR with her husband, cherishes her heritage. Every summer, Tina and her family return to Greece, where they continue to be inspired with new ideas for their Manhattan eatery.
People who visit the restaurant today might be surprised to learn that Souvlaki GR was, initially, a food truck, started by Tina's brother-in-law. Due to its quality and popularity, he promptly won a Vendy Award, which honors the best in street food. Motivated by his success, Tina’s husband opened Souvlaki GR’s first brick-and-mortar location on the Lower East Side. Five years later, in October of 2015, Tina and her husband added the midtown location.
The Greek atmosphere begins with the restaurant’s exterior, which is draped with bright pink bougainvillea flowers and tastefully painted in the colors of the Greek flag – Aegean blue and white. Like the traditional tavernas of Greece, the restaurant offers outdoor seating in the warmer months.
Inside, the blue and white color theme continues, enhanced by the framed displays, many of which come straight from Greece: One contains several pairs of trendy sunglasses from two fashion-blogger Greek sisters, while another consists of stunning blue evil-eye jewelry that is popular in the Mediterranean, and the third display has worry beads, which are commonly displayed and worn in Greece. In addition to the decorations, the restaurant incorporates Greek design in its layout; there is a small private nook. This is separated from the rest of the dining area by partial walls, giving diners a chance to have an even more peaceful experience in the restaurant’s already-relaxing ambience.
The authentic Greek experience begins from the moment one arrives at the restaurant, and continues throughout the meal, as many of the recipes are passed down from family members including the Greek chef’s grandmother. Both locations currently serve souvlaki - small pieces of meat or vegetables grilled on a skewer - in pita wraps. Tina proudly told us that Souvlaki GR receives fresh deliveries of meat and produce every day. Tina went on to say that many of the ingredients are imported straight from Greece - including the wine, beer and spices, and, of course, the extra virgin olive oil, which is from Kalamata. Even the salt on the table, Kalas Classic, is a product of Greece.
Tina and her husband's efforts to create a quality cultural experience have not gone unnoticed; Tina has received calls from Chicago, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, and Denver asking her to open new locations. While Tina is excited about the possibility of future expansion, she wants to add another location in New York first.
Guy Vaknin and his wife Tali opened Beyond Sushi in July of 2012 with the goal of producing healthy, beautiful and earth-conscious food. After learning of the depletion of fish in our oceans – not to mention the health benefits of a meatless diet – Guy set out to be the “first to pioneer the fish-less sushi movement. ” He views “sushi as a vessel that carries the perfect amount of flavor to just grab it in one bite. ” He also praises sushi for its consistency, which gives him room to play around in creating interesting and perfect balances of vegetable's flavors and colors. When describing his extensive background in the restaurant industry, Guy told us, “I had a dream to cook since I was young. I’ve always loved food. ” He grew up on a Kibbutz in Israel - and came to New York after serving in the Israeli army - to help out in his father’s restaurant. He went on to work at numerous other restaurants in New York doing every possible position, and after a brief dalliance with computer engineering, returned to the food world by studying at the Institute of Culinary Education. Fresh out of culinary school, Guy became the executive chef at his father’s kosher catering company. When a request for a sushi station popped up, and knowing that meat and fish are restricted in some areas of the Jewish world, he decided he wanted to create something “cool and innovative - and not fish. ” It took two years to develop his vegetarian sushi, but after selling out at the Vegetarian Food Festival two years in a row, Guy decided to open a business on 14th street. Within three months - working solely with the help of his sushi chef - the growing popularity of his beautiful, healthy, and delicious food quickly enabled him to expand into the thriving company that Beyond Sushi is today. One of Guy’s main goals is to balance sustainability and accessibility to encourage people to choose the healthy option of Beyond Sushi, and the passion that sustains this goal is his creativity. Even now that he has grown Beyond Sushi into a consistently expanding company, Guy still spends around fifty percent of his time cooking, and loves adding new dishes to his menu. He thinks of his business expansion in terms of community impact and wants to be “as big as possible. "
Everything at Norma Kamali's eponymous store feels distinctive, from the layout to the designs of the clothes. In the years since the designer opened her first shop on 53rd street in 1968, she has carved out a style all her own. Her flagship store's aesthetic is striking - white walls, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and fluorescent lighting that feels intentional and welcoming. Racks are placed at different locations throughout the store, showcasing Norma's three core collections - Activewear, Swimwear, and Kamali Kulture. The first includes Norma's iconic sweatsuits, which revolutionized women's activewear when the line appeared in 1984. The Swimwear collection prominently features the Bill Mio bathing suit, a rucked, old Hollywood-esque one-piece. Finally, the Kamali Kulture line was created so that a wider variety of women could enjoy Norma's signature designs; every item in the line is under one hundred dollars. The store also features sunglasses, including Norma's signature cat-eye shades. While being given a personal tour by Marissa, a representative of the Norma Kamali Brand, we learned that Norma's flagship location houses the Wellness Cafe, where women are invited to take a break from their shopping, sit down, and help themselves to some green tea and popcorn - sprinkled with Norma's own line of olive oil. On display is a "curation of products Norma loves, " including health snacks, supplements and weights. Marissa went on to explain that Norma frequently hosts events at the cafe featuring members of the medical community as well as tarot readers. "We invite people with a range of backgrounds and expertise, " said Marissa. Norma has achieved significant recognition in the fashion world and beyond, but many people who come into the store are merely drawn in by the display window. Customers stop by "whether they know that it's Norma Kamali or they're just curious, " Marissa told us. Though Norma's collections are featured in most major department stores, including her Fifth Avenue neighbors, this location on West 56th is the only one devoted exclusively to her. Because of their "small but mighty" status, Norma is able to keep a hand in everything that goes on at her boutique and wellness cafe: she styles the display window and chooses what clothing is showcased. Her virtual presence is strong as well: she narrates her own website, providing the stories behind various pieces of clothing. Towards the end of our time spent here, an exhilarating moment occurred when we had the pleasure of catching a glimpse of the grand lady, herself.