Just as its name reveals, Spitiko is all about home-made Greek food, all about those delicious Hellenic dishes prepared with extra love and meraki.
Spitiko owner John Ghionis is committed to making people feel at home, serving original and hearty mezethes and shared plates as well as traditional home-cooked items.
“All I wanted when I started this place eight years ago was to invite people in and show them what the Greek spirit is about,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“Spitiko is luckily what it says in the title and that is exactly what it’s about. So we serve you like it’s our home. The food is like that. The service is like that. We’re like that. It’s like coming and visiting your brother, your sister, your uncle, your auntie … Just take a look around you; there are photos of my family everywhere, our history, our legacy, our love for food!”
Spitiko does feel like a home, a home with enough tables to make all of John’s customers enjoy dining like a big family while listening to iconic Greek tunes spanning several decades.
The diligent staff is always at the clientele’s service with a list of suggestions and an honest smile.
John’s eatery is famous for their juicy pitas and pan-fried kefelograviera cheese saganaki, the fresh kataifi prawns wrapped up in filo threads and deep fried, the char-grilled octopus, the smoky melitzanosalata (eggplant dip), the taramosalata (cod roe dip), the soft haloumi and the crispiest, thinly sliced zucchini.
Spitiko is perfect for the meat-loving crowd as it offers an array of mixed grill goods ranging from pink lamb cutlets, pork and chicken skewers to spicy sausages and gyros lamb. Accompanied by freshly hand-cut chips or lemon roasted potatoes, Spitiko makes an invitation hard to turn down. There’s also a satisfying selection of local and, of course, Greek wines.
Meanwhile, Thursdays are dedicated to specials such as roasted lamb on the spit (yes, you and your friends can enjoy the whole thing!) and even a whole suckling pig if you like.
“Lamb on a spit; this is our best seller, followed closely by the suckling pig,” John advises. “We do it every Thursday or to order. So if a parea (group of friends) has a booking and wants to have either, we can arrange that.”
In terms of desserts, it’s the loukoumathes (aka Greek doughnuts) John takes pride in. “We do have baklava and ice-cream especially made for us but we pretty simply try to serve the best loukoumades we can, that is the main thing that we do and we do it well.”
That last line accurately sums up John’s philosophy about food and business. Do a few things but do them well: “no malakies“.
“That’s my life motto,” he says, laughing, “I’ve sort of taken a stance with myself and said ‘alright, no wanking, no malakies‘. And we’ve made T-shirts, caps … a whole movement out of this.”
“We just try to make normal Greek food, without weird twists, and just use the freshest ingredients. Make simple food. Don’t add anything that’s not necessary. The saganaki only needs a bit of lemon, not vanilla icecream and flowers on top. The same with the suckling pig. It’s fine as it is, it does not need lemon curd and chocolate syrup. That doesn’t work for me anyway.”
At 45 and having been involved in about 30 food-related businesses, John realised his lifestyle was exhausting him, keeping him away from his family. He had experienced success but he wasn’t content anymore.
“I’ve always had two or three businesses going at the same time and I like it better now. I’m happy. Sometimes people feel that if they have more businesses they can then sit and enjoy their life, spend more time at home with their kids. But I found that I needed to look after myself. The more businesses, the more responsibilities, and the goal in the end is exactly what I’m doing now anyway,” he explains.
“I enjoy what I do; I love my life, my family, my job. I don’t need a new house, a new car or a new restaurant. Spitiko is my home. It’s my little Greece in Melbourne.”
John’s dad is from Dimitsana, a town near Tripoli in the Peloponnese, and his mum from Chalkidiki. It is their heritage and knowledge of food that the Spitiko menu is based on, although the owner often includes inspiration from everyday life in Greece.
“Four to five years ago I missed the souvlaki that I ate in Greece, so I decided to introduce a different kind of souvlaki to Melbourne – Greek style,” he emphasises.
“At the time there weren’t any places doing it traditionally. Now it’s everywhere. At the time, I only did it because I wanted it. I wanted to be able to eat it. And I couldn’t find it anywhere so I started doing it. I’ll do a Pepsi challenge against any souvlaki. For me, authentic means charcoal pita, meat on the spit, hand-cut, fresh chips in the souvlakia. Not frozen potatoes and gas.”
“However, I need to credit my pita-suppliers, Mr Pita. They are the best − everyone making souvlaki in Melbourne acknowledges that but don’t give them enough credit. They deserve it.”
Honesty is one of John’s biggest virtues, something that becomes apparent within the first few minutes of meeting him personally. He will admit his mistakes, praise his competition and do everything in his power to offer his customers the best dining experience using the freshest ingredients.
“I’m not afraid to say that another restaurant makes the best this or that. I will! I’ll even give you recommendations if you ask me! We should support each other and give credit to our suppliers.
“I’m not competing with anyone,” he says. “I just make the food I’d want to eat and try to make my guests feel at home.”
To find out more go to www.spitiko.com.au