The Greek Islands of Indianapolis: More Than a Restaurant
OPA! There are many things in life worth celebrating: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and promotions. Or, maybe, you have reason to celebrate because you beat the odds to make your dream of opening a Greek restaurant a reality!
Decades ago, Elias Stergiopoulos moved his family to Indianapolis with that very dream and opened the Greek Islands Restaurant in 1987. They renovated the building of what used to be Allinakoff’s Kosher Meat Market at 906 South Meridian Street in the old Jewish neighborhood. Allinakoff’s Meat Market was one of the few kosher meat markets in Indy during the 1940s, at a time when many Jewish refugees arrived to Indianapolis displaced by World War II.
After the war, downtown Indianapolis experienced an economic downturn as many families moved out of the city into a new alluring life in the suburbs. By the 1970s, Indy’s downtown neighborhood was in pretty bad shape.
When Elias opened the Greek Islands Restaurant, as his son George who now manages the restaurant describes, it was one of the first ethnic restaurants to open downtown at a time when the city began reinventing itself. It was also a challenge uprooting and moving his family to a new city, on top of the fact his English wasn’t the best. But the family stuck together serving authentic Greek cuisine in Indy. Little by little and bite by bite, they became a favorite of the downtown Indianapolis restaurant scene that still carries on the family tradition today.
“My strength lies in the love of people,” were the words Elias printed on their first business card.
I will never forget my first time visiting the Greek Islands Restaurant years ago. The whole family was gathered and I had the opportunity to interview Elias for a TV segment I was hosting. He spoke of his love for the community and how he felt blessed by so many people supporting him and showing their appreciation for the restaurant.
That interview was followed by music, belly dancing, the breaking of plates, and a whole lot of people shouting, “Opa!”, in-between servers carrying dishes of flaming saganaki cheese. It was a celebration of life! I felt like I was part of their family.
Even today when I visit, George and his sister Angela (the executive chef who manages the kitchen), welcome me as if I were a family member they haven't seen in a while. It’s as if I’ve been invited to dinner at their house during a special occasion. I don’t think anyone is a stranger upon their visit to the Greek Islands Restaurant.
“Greeks in general like to celebrate other people's fun events. …Its like we’ve become part of a huge family and its pretty awesome,” exclaims George while describing the restaurant’s relationship with the community.