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We’re now just a couple of weeks away from beginning our celebration of 50 years of Athens Pizza, and I still can’t believe this place is older than me. But first, let me make a few of you jealous by giving a quick rundown of my visit to paradise a couple of months ago (aka ‘home’ aka Greece)…I meant to share this earlier, but it’s been busy since we got back!

A Trip to Remember

Family Meal

Family Meal

My wife, my daughter and I started our trip in our home base, Athens, where there are always a few things we must do on our trips to Greece. First, we have to visit family, which, to us Greeks, is the most important thing and is an all-day event, including at least one meal and plenty of drinking!

Delicious Coffee

Delicious Coffee

Catching up with family is priority number one, but there are a few dining and shopping staples we have to visit when we’re in town as well. We always visit friends we’ve made over the years at the specialty shops in the Monastiraki district of Athens and then we always end up eating at Bairaktaris Taverna. Their kebab, which is a mixture of ground beef, ground lamb and a secret mix of seasonings that the owner would never give up, is heaven in your mouth. When anyone comes into Athens Pizza and tells me that they are going to Athens, I always give them my business card with the information for Bairaktaris Taverna, and it has never disappointed.

Next, we spent a night visiting with our cousins on Rhodes, a beautiful island in the Dodecanese in the Southeast corner of Greece, very near Turkey. The next morning, we took a hydrofoil to my wife’s island, Symi. Now, I’ve been to almost every island of Greece, and I promise I’ve never been to an island quite as beautiful as Symi. The landscape, the food, the picturesque houses, the people and the beaches were all amazing! We truly did not want to leave there.

View from our taxi in Rhodes.

View from our taxi in Rhodes.

From Symi, we went back towards Athens for a couple of days at the Cape Sounio Resort at Sounio, near the Temple of Poseidon, which is about an hour outside of Athens. The beach was great, the food was great and the service was outstanding. A must-stop for anyone traveling to Greece.

From Sounio, we went to Parga, which is on the Ionian Sea in Western Greece for my oldest nephew’s wedding, and I must tell you that Parga is one of those hidden gems in Greece that not many people know about. The water in that area is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, crystal clear as if it were a swimming pool. The landscape of mountains and ocean is amazing, typical of most places in Greece, and the people and food again were exceptional. Everything was incredibly fresh, and we enjoyed visiting our new friend in Parga at a restaurant called “Arkoudas” (the Bear), where we ate his homemade tsipouro (the Greek version of Grappa, but SOOOO much better!) to end our evening.

Enough said about my trip. ;-)

Enough said about my trip. 😉

Now, if you ask me what my favorite part of my trip this year, I really wouldn’t be able to choose. This was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken to Greece, and for me to say that, as many times as I’ve been, is really saying something. Maybe it was because I got to enjoy my vacation with my family and I got to see my oldest nephew get married. Maybe it was because I got to go to Symi, where my wife’s ancestors came from, and I finally realized why she’s been begging me to go there all these years (there are few islands as beautiful as Symi). As odd as this may sound, one of my other favorite things was drinking FIX beer, which is probably one of the best lagers I’ve ever had. I had forgotten how much I liked it, and how there’s nothing like drinking a cold FIX on the beach with some fresh octopus.

One thing I found more interesting than any other time I have gone to Greece is how the customer service has gotten so much better. I’m not saying that it wasn’t good before, but this year, I can honestly say that the people of Greece have stepped up their game. I was prouder than I have ever been of the resiliency of my fellow Greeks. Despite all the things that are going wrong in that country, all the criticism, the incredibly hard times, despite all of that, the Greeks still find ways to pick themselves up and make things work. Don’t get me wrong, times are very tough in Greece, and I hope and pray that things get better soon, but Greeks are tough and their spirit was shining the entire time I was there. I get emotional thinking about what the Greeks are going through, but I know in my heart they will be just fine, and I will do what I can to help them as much as I can. I hope all of you reading this get the opportunity to visit at least once in your life.

Celebrating 50 Years…YES…50!

All that said, I came home relaxed and refreshed, but don’t get too jealous—as you might have noticed by how long it’s been since I’ve written this blog, I have been busy. As I mentioned, our 50th anniversary is officially August 27, 2016. Yes, that’s in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS. Our main celebration will be a little later in the fall, though, because we can’t do this without Mama P., and she won’t be here on the 27th.

Partners in Crime

Partners in Crime. Come Party August 27!!

But we can’t let the anniversary date go by without some kind of celebration—so I’m excited to share that we will be partnering with Jekyll Brewing on the 27th for some great beer, great Greek food and great times at the restaurant. Call it a pre-celebration celebration to warm you up for the big event in October. It’s going to be fun and I hope you’ll join us. Check out our Facebook page for more details and an invitation.

I, of course, wasn’t born when my mom and dad started the restaurant (since I am not a day over 35—that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), but just think about how incredible that is. How many other restaurants do you know that have been in business for that long? I am so proud and happy for my mother that this labor of love she and my dad created has not only endured, but has flourished for half a century. And it has meant great deal to a lot of people besides us. We have become part of the fabric of this community.

Basically, this is a really big deal. It’s a really big deal for my family, and for our customers, of course, but also for Decatur and Atlanta. We may not have moved here until 1977, but, hey, forget 50—look around you and tell me how many other restaurants in metro Atlanta have even been around for 39 years? With the same people running them? And still serving really, really good food?

We’ve got patrons who have been coming to see us since pretty much the beginning. And they still come, because my mother’s recipes that were so delicious in 1966 are still delicious in 2016. And because my family, who built this restaurant from nothing with love, care and determination, are still here, and we still care, and we still look after our guests. Walk in any day of the week, and you’ll usually see me or Mama P. right in the middle of the restaurant, keeping things running and talking to our customers. That’s pretty damn special. That’s pretty damn rare.

So we’re going to do what Greeks do. We’re going to throw a really big, really awesome party. We’re going to serve tons of delicious Greek food—the same amazing recipes that Mama P. started serving back in 1966. We’re going to laugh and reminisce and sing and dance. We’re going to honor Mama P. for building such a beautiful thing, and we’re also going to honor my father, John, even though he can’t be with us. We’re going to celebrate my family and yours all the families that have been having quality time with us for half a century.

I’ll share more details about the *big* party with you in my blog next month, but we’re thinking October. And don’t forget that you can get warmed up for the celebration with us and Jekyll Brewing on August 27. I hope you’ll join us for both events!!

**AND: If you have any stories (and I know you do!!) that you’d like to share about your experiences at Athens Pizza (or with my family) over the years, please email them to my marketing manager, Maggie Kempken at magskmpkn@gmail.com.**