you know a little about my history in the food industry. There is a certain work ethic (and a bit of madness) that exists in restauranteurs and their employees. I inherited the food madness from my Mother's side of the family. Her Grand-uncle came to the United States in the early 1880's and, as family stories go, did everything from selling bananas at the 1893 World Expo, opened the first Greek Cafe in the early 1900's, had flower stands on the original elevated tracks of Chicago, and went from a poor, shoeless boy to being called the King of the Greeks by Mike Royko in his obituary in 1960. My mother came to the states after WWII and went on to open nine hot dog concessions that she operated in the Chicago Park district for over 50 years. Never able to just say at home she worked during the winter as a salad chef at the Everglades club in Palm Beach, Fl. Today at 85, she still comes to Avli about 8 months of the year on a daily basis and keeps busy, cleaning and preparing fresh herbs and vegetables in our kitchen every morning.
I grew up working for my family's concession business. At 7, I filled bags of peanuts that we bought from Mellos Peanuts and Popcorn. By 10 I was serving customers and at 15 I ran my own concession stand at Indian Boundry Park. After college (and a discovery that law school and I were not match) I opened my first restaurant in the lower level of Chicago's China Club nightclub. If you think restaurant works are crazy, there are stories that I wish I could tell you about China club back in the day! Well 2 years later I went to work for the Greek Islands restaurant, which then and today is the best traditional Greek restaurant in the United States (and maybe the world, i just need to travel more to prove it). I spent a few years there learning from my now father-in-law Gus Couchell, before opening my next restaurant, Ouzeri, in Lincoln Park.
I wish I stuck Ouzeri out, as I believe I was ahead of the curve in a few ways compared to other Greek restaurants at the time. Ouzeri was a Greek Meze restaurant (small plates), where we had 60 mezes, an all Greek Wine list and innovated how we actually made Greek food. Today, many of my principles at Avli were molded at that first Greek restaurant: We produce everything in house that we can, like our own Gyros, desserts, sauces, marinades, and stocks. Authentic Greek ingredients are in so many of our dishes, Greek herbs, beans, olive oil, seafood, liquers, sauces, sea salt, pasta, and yogurt, and cook every dish to order. A quick shot-out to Tanya Hemphill, my pastry chef at Ouzeri, who was a true example of demanding culinary excellence and had a great impact on modernizing Greek desserts back then. Today, Avli offers classic Greek dishes, modern twists, fresh Mediterranean seafood, and outrageous desserts (as Steve dolinsky said). I hope you get a chance to visit us. Kali Orexi.