Royal Oak's restaurant scene has been Greek'ed up with the arrival of KouZina, where the pita bread is baked fresh all day, the Greek yogurt is double strained daily and the short and sweet menu serves up Greek food the way Greeks know it should be done.
It's what owner Bobby Laskaris calls Greek street food, and as the son of the man behind two Greektown Detroit restaurant establishments and as a metro Detroiter who has grown tired of restaurants "butchering" gyros and other Greek favorites he decided to do things the right way. Thus KouZina, which opened Oct. 15 at 121 N. Main St. near 11 Mile Road and across from two nearby movie theaters.
Laskaris and partner George Seros brought their family's knowledge of the disappearing art of Greek cooking to their menu. Laskaris's father, 73-year-old Pete Panagiots, has been the owner and executive chef of Detroit's Athens Cuisine and Olympian Cafe for decades.
"Everything is fresh. We have no freezers, no microwaves in the place. We serve pork gyros like you find in Athens. We make everything ourselves," Laskaris says.
KouZina is located in the space formerly occupied by Zumba Mexican grill. After months of renovations and hiring of about 50 employees, 10 full time, Laskaris says the downtown crowds are eating up the casual Greek fare - real, authentic "like you would find in Athens," he says. The menu, a one-sided, easy digest list, consists of gyros, a gyro bowl, a Greek salad, two sauces and a handful of extras such as spinach pie "that we can't make enough of."
Laskaris didn't expect to follow in the tired steps of his father into restaurant ownership. "I saw how many hours he worked. It's hard, tiring work," he says. Instead he went the route of providing Greek food to sports and entertainment venues. But after one too many bad gyros "I had to do something," he says. "I thought it's time to change this."
The plan, he says, was for the first week of business to be a soft opening, to work out the kinks, but the public didn't give them time. At 10:45, 15 minutes before opening time, "the parking lot was packed and there was a line at the door."
"It hasn't stopped. We can hardly keep up," he says. "It's amazing."
Buzz about KouZina, including a 2012 win for Best Entree at Arts, Beats & Eats, helped build the anticipation. It's why the intimate 20-seat establishment is seeing sales volume on a large scale. He has people asking if he wants to open a second location, if they can invest. Regular orders for meetings at nearby offices are coming in.
Staying true to the cuisine of his culture is just one accomplishment that's exceeding his expectations. He also wanted KouZina to be a Royal Oaker's place. The majority of his staff are locals and each month a local artists' work will decorate the walls.
Source: Bobby Laskaris
Writer: Kim North Shine