Recipe for success

Young entrepreneur Constantinos Pissiotis and chef Christoforos Peskias talk with Mike Sweet about the New York-style deli with a cosmopolitan twist they've opened in Kifissia.

Launching and sustaining a new business in Athens, as Greece grapples with its economic woes is no mean feat.

We’re hitting our projections, but we’re still the new thing – the place to go.

Against a backdrop of price increases and other austerity measures, that’s exactly what young entrepreneur Constantinos Pissiotis and chef Christoforos Peskias have accomplished.

Four months after the “π Box” EATERY opened its doors Constantinos Pissiotis is in reflective mood.

The articulate 37-year old owner of “π Box” who studied Financial Marketing at the London School of Economics, couldn’t have picked a more testing time to undertake his first personal business venture.

Based on a New York style Deli, “π Box” sits on the leafy central high street of Kifisia, one of Athens’ most affluent districts.

With its contemporary design including a central open kitchen, chefs are revealed in the act of preparing dishes from Christoforos Peskias’ mouthwatering menu.

The restaurant-cafe has room at a squeeze for over sixty customers, who are offered a menu which reflects Peskias’ philosophy of ‘Greek cosmopolitan cuisine’; a rich fusion of traditional Greek dishes with other Mediterranean, and particularly East Asian tastes.

Christoforos’ tempting signature dishes include Tuna with melitzanosalata and teryaki-yuzu sauce, Peinerli with foie gras and Siglino (smoked Pork from the Mani), and Carpaccio of Beef with wasabi zhuke.

Costas and Christoforos first met when they worked for the celebrated Dakos restaurants in Athens.

Costas ran the PR and Marketing; Christos was the consulting chef.

“He is a genius,” says Costas of his business partner, “not only in terms of his cooking but in setting up a restaurant. He instantly knew what kind of menu would work.”

Christoforos, originally from Cyprus is a close friend of George Calombaris.

They have cooked together at Calombaris’ ‘Press Club’ restaurant in Melbourne.

Twice Christoforos has been a guest of the Melbourne Food Festival.

Fresh ingredients from trusted suppliers and imaginative but uncomplicated recipes are key to Christoforos’ cooking, and the success “π Box” has experienced in its first three months.

“We saw there was a gap. There were very few all-day restaurants offering good food at reasonable prices. We wanted to open a ‘destination’ restaurant,” says Costas who, like Christoforos, lives in Kifisia.

When asked what was the biggest challenge in realising the “π Box” venture, Costas is quick to point out the workings of Greece’s local authority bureaucracies, that so often bedevil and thwart entrepreneurial business growth in Greece.

“That was the biggest challenge,” Constantinos says with a tone of exasperation.

“People who control the licences and application processes hold the key to getting the engine started”

“You have to get your head around this. With our intention to create new jobs in these times of high unemployment, I would have hoped for more support and less obstacles in getting a new business off the ground.”

“Why does it have to be so difficult?”

A thorough approach to business planning has been vital for Constantinos and Christoforos, who provided a substantial part of the start-up capital themselves.

But they also needed a bank loan.

Luckily they managed to convince their bank of the sound commercial business case for the project last year, before the economic crisis worsened.

“It would be impossible to do now,” says Constantinos ruefully.

“They were very reluctant to lend, despite us providing a business plan and projections, which is not common here.”

With the bank finally convinced that they had done their homework properly, the loan was approved, but then took months to translate into cash.

“When we opened we were on the brink of bankruptcy.”

Despite this inauspicious start and the increasing problems faced by the local economy, business has been good.

“We are lucky so far,” admits Constantinos.

“We came up with an idea that people wanted.

“You find here honest food from all over the world. Italian pasta next to Indian curry, next to Sushi.

“We’re hitting our projections, but we’re still the new thing – the place to go.

“Whether we keep our customers we’ll see in six months time.”

Constantinos puts the success “π Box” has experienced so far, down to quality, competitive pricing, and a commitment to high standards of customer service, a concept often not understood, or applied in Greece.

“If what you are offering is value for money people will realise it,” he says.

If you don’t make compromises in terms of quality and service, then it is possible to get through these difficult times.”

If anyone needs a business model in Greece today, a look inside the “π Box” might be the way to go.

“π Box”
11 Levidou Street
Kifisia, Athens
210 808 8818