What started as retirement turned out to be just a long vacation for Ulysses and Christina Avgeros (pictured), who recently opened the Greek Grill Café (2313 Westwood Ave., 355-4001) in Richmond's North Side.
No strangers to the local restaurant scene, the couple owned Su Casa, a Mexican restaurant in the Near West End, for nearly 14 years, and two other restaurants before that. Why Mexican? "I saw the place," Ulysses recalls. "I had a cook, and my wife loves Mexican cuisine. We did a good business." They added a few Mediterranean touches, such as baklava in the dessert case and a Greek-style marinated chicken dish.
Several years ago, the couple sold Su Casa, planning to retire. "For three years, I enjoyed doing nothing," says Ulysses. But when the opportunity arose to buy another restaurant, it was Christina who urged a return to work. "I also missed my customers," Ulysses says. "All my customers are friends. Now I see my wife smile, and people come back to see me." While he greets diners out front, Christina is usually in the kitchen, cooking.
Both natives of Greece, the Avgeroses moved to the United States 40 years ago, but they haven't forgotten their culinary heritage. The Greek Grill serves traditional dishes, including spanakopita, souvlaki, moussaka and gyros and incorporates ingredients such as spinach and feta into American standbys like hamburgers, sandwiches and pizza.
Enhancing the flavors of Greece, vivid murals of the Parthenon ruins and Greek islands — painted by J.P. Happy Kuhn, aka Happy the Artist — give you the feel of a mini-getaway as you step through the door. Kuhn researched Greek mythology to get ideas for the paintings, which he says also reflect Ulysses' energy: "He came in one day, and said, ‘Happy, more blue. More blue.' "
And even after years as a successful restaurateur, Ulysses still relies on family advice. "My father tells me, ‘If you can't do better, do like yesterday,' " he says. "People come back that way.