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Risky Eats

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 6:54 a.m. March 11, 2011
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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If location is a key to restaurant success, then the spot occupied by Sarasota Legacy Grille should be a smash hit.

But the location, on the corner of a heavily traveled intersection that is an entry to Siesta Key, has instead been a constant disappointment. National chains, such as Friendly's, have bombed there. So have independently owned local joints.

Sarasota residents George Nikias, Tom Kouvatsos and Dino Kouvatsos, cousins and local restaurant veterans, hope to put an end to the failures. The three restaurateurs recently opened Sarasota Legacy Grille in the location, on U.S. 41, just south of the Stickney Point Bridge. Big Al's City Grill, a Naples-based regional chain, was the most recent restaurant to come and go.

“Nobody has made it more than three or four years here,” says Nikias. “Our goal is to be here for at least 20 years.”

The cousins put at least $500,000 into a total restaurant overhaul. Work included new air conditioning units and kitchen equipment, new paint on the inside and outside, and an expanded outdoor patio bar that doubled the seats to 100. The owners also installed more than 30 TVs that are either 50 or 60 inches, plus a 110-inch TV inside and a 132-inch TV outside.

Sarasota Legacy Grille opened last fall. Tom Kouvatsos says the restaurant is already profitable, which surprised the owners given their experience in the industry. They thought it might be more than a year before they turned a profit. “We've exceeded our expectations,” Kouvatsos says.

The cousins, who grew up together in New York, have worked in several family-owned restaurants during the past 25 years. Their first experience in the industry was at New York diners, known for big portions and quick service. “We were raised in the business,” says Tom Kouvatsos. “We were raised to be hands on.”

Nikias' father, Harry Nikias, opened the Dutch Valley restaurant on U.S. 41 in Sarasota when he moved to the area from New York with his family in the late 1970s. The elder Nikias has since sold Dutch Valley, but the Nikias and Kouvatsos families still operate two other restaurants in the area: Millie's on Clark Road and the Village Cafe on Siesta Key.

Moreover, several other Nikias and Kouvatsos cousins and relatives are in the restaurant business. The family eatery holdings include three Basil's Chicken resturants in Sarasota and Manatee counties; Papa Nick's Pasta & Pizza on Fruitville Road in Sarasota; and the Sugar and Spice Family Restaurant in Sarasota.

The cousins say the biggest lesson they have learned in the restaurant business is one transferable to nearly any industry: attention to detail. For example, Dino Kouvatsos says he has worked in places that skimped on plates, and the result was entrees turned cold because the only available plates were in the dishwasher.

Dino Kouvatsos says he and his cousins plan to avoid those mistakes. In the process, says Tom Kouvatsos, they hope to break the chain of failed resturants that have come and gone from the location.

“I want to get a year under our belt and see what we could do to make it better,” says Tom Kouvatsos.


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