Located in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, Yanni’s was your classic Greek American restaurant: stuffed grape leaves and moussaka on the menu and a giant Acropolis on display.
“It looked like an old, rustic Greek restaurant. There was a lot of clutter,” says it’s owner Peter Avgoustiou.
Peter and his father opened Yanni’s in 1984.
“When we moved here, it was nothing but antique shops. It was like, ‘Wow, this is like a ghost town.'”
For many years, the restaurant did well, but then the neighborhood started to change. The antique shops turned into trendy boutiques and restaurants featuring small plates and mixologists moved in. Peter wondered how he could appeal to the neighborhood’s younger clientele.
One night, Peter, his wife Karen and their two grown daughters were standing in the empty dining room.
“And this girl walks in,” Karen says. “[She says] ‘Have you ever heard of “Kitchen Nightmares?'” and we said, ‘Yes,’ and she says, ‘Well, we’re scouting restaurants.'”
The next thing they knew, Yanni’s was the first Seattle restaurant to be featured on chef Gordan Ramsey’s show, “Kitchen Nightmares,” where struggling restaurants are whipped into shape and made over from menu to decor. I popped into Yanni’s a few weeks after the episode aired and was a little shocked to meet the sweet, bubbly, seemingly happily married couple after seeing so much yelling, screaming and cursing on the show.
Perhaps Karen and Peter’s recent happiness is thanks to Gordon Ramsey’s visit. Since the episode aired last month, they say the dining room is packed.
“People come from all over to eat here, get their pictures taken,” says Karen. “We’re getting postcards from all over the world.”
The drab restaurant was transformed into a bright, modern space, and Ramsey threw out their massive 71 item menu and replaced it with 25 new dishes. I wondered if it was hard for Peter to give up the recipes that were passed down his family for generations.
“Yeah, they were going through my heart when they were taking these things off the menu. No! These are my dishes! They were family recipes. It was a little tough. But you know what? It’s much better now.”
But Peter doesn’t love all of Gordon’s ideas.
“Ehhh, there are some dishes I am not too crazy about it. We’re known as a Greek restaurant, and shwarma is not a Greek food. It’s a great dish, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not Greek.”
Greek, like the gyro Yanni’s served to Gordon Ramsey.
“What is in there? It looks like a plate full of puke,” Ramsey commented while eating the gyro on the show. “Look at it. What a mess.”
I wondered, is Gordon Ramsey as big of a jerk as he seems on TV?
“I don’t want to say he’s mean, but he’s doing his job. He’s very intense. He wants to make you realize what you’re doing wrong and make you realize what you can do right. My daughter cried throughout the show. We tried to tell her, you know, it’s just a show.”
Their daughter Tariya’s constant crying was a very memorable part of the episode. But even her tears dried up after her family’s restaurant was turned around.
“To see my father so happy, it’s such a great feeling,” Tariya said at the end of the episode. “Today marks the greatest day ever at Yanni’s Greek Restaurant.”
Yanni’s lost a few customers because of the modernization, but they still have a small side menu offering some of the old favorites, like lamb.