By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
Christos and Effie Sarantis were born into the restaurant business.
Christos Sarantis’ family started restaurants both in his native Canada and, later, in D.C., while Effie Sarantis’ family founded a Greek restaurant, Steve’s Diner, in Alexandria.
Both went in different directions with their careers, however, with Christos entering the real estate and construction businesses in the D.C. area and Alexandria native Effie Sarantis attending school and studying abroad.
After getting married, though, the two decided to reenter the business, opening Souvlaki Bar in a shopping center Christos Sarantis built in Potomac Yard along U.S. Route 1 on a plot of land where Steve’s Diner once stood. The new fast-casual restaurant, SouvlakiBar, opened in October 2016, serving Greek festival-inspired fare.
“We wanted to do something special – we wanted to bring back Greek food and bring it in a fast-casual way where we could bring it to the masses,” Christos Sarantis said.
Christos Sarantis said the food itself, which includes fan favorite Greek entrees like gyros, souvlaki, pastitso, spanakopita and more, came about after years of attending the festivals at his home parish of St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Falls Church and St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in D.C.
“We’ve been at Greek festivals where everyone is waiting outside and the food sells out and Christos and I were like, ‘Why don’t we do something that serves the same festival food?’” Effie Sarantis said.
Christos Sarantis said the two began paying attention to what festival attendees were ordering.
“We would go to our Greek festival at St. Katherine’s and St. Sophia’s and we would see how everyone, in that three-day period, would come from all over and love it and stand in line for gyros, souvlaki, spanakopita, baklava,” Christos Sarantis said.
Effie Sarantis’ mother often cooked for the festivals, as did the parents of James Bouloukos, vice president at Sarantis Properties, making the menu’s inclusion of festival food natural. The recipes used at the restaurant are all family recipes.
“There’s nothing frozen, nothing pre-made. That’s what makes it really special,” Effie Sarantis said.
The restaurant, in addition to popular Greek staples, also offers rice bowls, salad bowls and American fare like chicken wings and French fries – though there’s also loaded “Greek fries” with oregano and feta.
“The nice thing about our menu is it has variety, it doesn’t overload you…” Christos Sarantis said. “It has your bowls and salads, just like a typical Chipotle or Cava, but it also has small plates, where you can make a meal.”
Christos Sarantis said they opted to go in the fast-casual direction because of trends in the market and the overall lower price point. The price for a meal at SouvlakiBar for lunch and dinner runs from $9 to $15.
“I would go to the Parthenon Downtown, the Trapezaria in town and it would end up being $50, $60 a head. I truly wanted to bring something to the public where they can get something for $8 or $9 [per person],” Christos Sarantis said.
Since opening the first location of Souvlaki Bar in Alexandria two years ago, the Sarantises opened locations in Sterling and Leesburg in short order in 2017. Christos Sarantis said, depending on how demand goes at those locations, the couple will look into expanding and, perhaps, will open new concepts down the road.
“We’ll see how the public receives those three locations and once we get our ducks in the row and grow this business and the public gets to know us better, we’ll expand into other areas,” Christos Sarantis said.