Niko Niko’s Family Legacy Continues To Grow After 37 Years in Montrose
Dimitri Fetokakis is unmistakable. The man whose caricaturized face has become synonymous with Greek food in the city of Houston sits at a booth near the end of the dining room of Niko Niko’s in Montrose with his mother, Eleni Fetokakis, watching the crowds roll in for lunch. Eating breakfast, he pauses every few bites to say hello to a police officer heading to a table or catching up briefly with a customer he recognizes. It’s a friendly hospitality that doesn’t end with simple hellos or goodbyes, Dimitri and Eleni truly feel the restaurant — and everyone in it — is family.
“I treat the workers like my family,” says Eleni. “Not only the workers, but also the customers. I walk inside and there are my children. A lot of people call me ‘Mami’ and it makes me very happy. I have a lot of children thanks to God.”
Perhaps that attitude is the key to the restaurant’s longevity, or perhaps it’s the loyal staff members — some of whom have been working there as many as 37 years — but there’s no doubt the Fetokakis family has a knack for bringing people back time and time again.
If Niko Niko’s were a tree, its roots would extend far beneath the soil of the flagship Montrose location, its branches now reaching into downtown, West Houston and even as far as Pearland. However, for the majority of its life, Niko Niko’s has been solely a Montrose institution. The restaurant launched in 1977 as a humble food stand, eventually transforming into the bustling sidewalk cafe and restaurant that has some of the best parking in Montrose (which is saying something).
Dimitri is the second generation owner/operator of Montrose, taking the reigns from his mother Eleni, who founded the restaurant with her then-husband and Dimitri’s father, Chrisanthios Fetokakis. Of Eleni’s four children, Dimitri was the one who seemed to have the restaurateur genes running through his DNA. After all, Eleni herself was born in the back of her father’s restaurant in Greece, it was only natural at least one of her children would carry on the legacy.
“Dimitri is the baby of the family,” says Eleni. “He loves it. This business is special for him.”
After so many successful years at one location, why all this expansion and why now? It wasn’t a matter of if for Dimitri, but just a matter of when. The latter came looking for him instead of the other way around.
As Dimitri puts it, “opportunities happened” to help the expansion of Niko Niko’s. The first branch was the downtown location in Market Square Park, a risk due to its all-outdoor seating, but something truly unique to the city.
“We were kind of looking at doing something in the tunnels [of Downtown],” says Dimitri. “Don’t get me wrong, they do great business down there, but for me, it was really depressing to think that I would go underground and stay there all day. Then they told me about the park with open-air dining and it reminded me a lot of Greece.”
Dimitri found the smaller, more compact location a great place to perfect the Niko’s prototype. The Pearland opportunity came knocking a few years later.
“H-E-B [Pearland] happened with Scott McClelland [H-E-B’s president], who would come in here and he liked us,” says Dimitri. “He came to me and asked if we would like to do something in H-E-B. I really liked it in there and saw the potential for a great relationship with them. They’re a good company and I saw how they treated their employees and thought, ‘I can work with these guys.’”
And work with them they did, opening up the Pearland H-E-B spot with yet another expansion on the horizon. This time, it’s for more personal reasons.
“My family moved from Montrose into the Bunker Hill area, so we were kind of looking around for something to open there,” says Dimitri, explaining that yet again, another great deal presented itself at the perfect time.
Located in a former Chili’s at the Sam Houston Tollway and Interstate 10, the restaurant will be a whopping 6,000 square feet and is slated to open next spring, bringing the growing Niko’s family to four, a number that parallels the growth of Dimitri’s actual family (he’s expecting his second child, a daughter, with wife Laura at the end of the year). After that? Only Dimitri knows, but for now he’s holding down the forts with the same principles that he credits with the original location’s longevity.
“You can’t just say that just because you have a name, that you’ll open and people will come,” says Dimitri. “You still have to give good service, you still have to give good quality and you need to be clean. Don’t make the business convenient for yourself, make it convenient for your customer; and remind your staff of that. You have to treat your staff with respect, they’re the ones that keep it going. You have to be hands on.”
But most importantly for the customers that keep coming back for a taste of Niko Niko’s — in all its locations — it’s the feeling of warmth and authenticity that Dimitri and Eleni Fetokakis have fostered throughout the years. It starts with the loyalty and respect for their staff and trickles down into the effort of getting to know their customers by name. For them, it’s just one big happy and growing (Greek) family.