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Recipe for success October 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
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In a region flooded with well-known chains, what kind of person does it take to make two independent restaurants thrive? It takes someone as hard working as George Sklavounos, who drew 4,000 people to his newest venture within five days of opening.

The 32-year-old went from making and selling plaster decorative molds at age 7 to having two jobs in eighth grade to working at his family’s pizza place in Milford at age 20. That was all before transforming a former Merrimack Friendly’s into Giorgio’s Ristorante & Martini Bar, a chic Italian-Greek eatery, when he was 27.

On Sept. 29, he opened his second restaurant, Giorgio’s Ristorante & Meze Bar, at 524 Nashua St. in Milford, the former location of the White Horse Tavern. And it’s evident that his success in Merrimack has already transferred to his new eatery: His restaurant was jam packed Wednesday night at 6.

The new Giorgio’s has 85 employees, and George still needs a few more. While the place is a bit more upscale looking and has a larger menu, the prices are just as affordable as the Merrimack Giorgio’s. He has added more Greek fare at the new Giorgios, as well as a “meze” menu. Meze are small dishes, or appetizers, designed to go with a beverage and encourage guests to linger and enjoy.

Walking into the 7,600-square-foot building, guests spy an eye-popping octagonal rotonda, white sculptures, intricate ironwork and colorful ancient murals, all of which the restaurateur brought back from recent trips to Athens, Greece, where his family is from. Simply put, the restaurant resembles a small Mediterranean palace. Contemporary Greek music adds to the unique-to-the-area atmosphere.

Custom-made, contemporary, Saturn-shaped fusion glass light fixtures hang from the ceiling, water trickles through a handmade waterfall and an Austrian granite bar with mahogany trim serves as the bar’s centerpiece. White marble porcelain tile floors look like something seen in the Parthenon. The building, which has handsome stonework on the exterior and was a year in the making, was designed by Mike Cheever, an architect and design builder, who has been in the business for 28 years.

Cheever, vice president of design and construction at Stenbak Design Associates of Londonderry, even met with Sklavounos in Greece one summer to pick out the decorations for the new restaurant. “He took me to a couple Athenian restaurants,” Cheever said. “It just had an ambiance that was unlike anything I had experienced in the States.” George said Cheever worked 12-hour days, putting his heart into the project.

“He gave me something that matches my personality,” George said. “If it wasn’t for Mike, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” And the Sklavounos family, George; his brother, Costas; mother, Maria; and father, Alexander, put their personalities into the building, too. “We pretty much hand-built the restaurant,” said Costas Sklavounos, 27, who manages the Merrimack Giorgio’s. “My dad built the waterfall. I helped him.”

Today, Alex does the maintenance on the building and prep work in the kitchen, while Maria focuses her efforts on take-out. George said he’s glad his parents are working more normal schedules and are less stressed.

The Sklavounos family bought the 1.8-acre property in 1999 and spent years trying to decide what to build there. The property is known as the site of a 19th-century farm that was turned into the White Horse Inn, popular for its sourdough bread and live bands. The last building on the site, a large historic barn, was destroyed by arson in 2002. Meantime, George built the 100-seat Giorgio’s in Merrimack’s Pennichuck Square when the former Friendly’s 2,700-square-foot space became available.

This newest Giorgio’s seats 239, including outside seating and a large bar. When George opened the Merrimack Giorgio’s five years ago, he remembers one specific evening working behind the bar. “Someone asked me to make a margarita,” he recalled, not knowing what to do. He knows how to make one now, he said.

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