By Margo Levy, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 8, 2014
While the new Mezes Greek Grill has just opened on North University Avenue, the Roumanis family has been refining their flavors and culinary traditions that have been in their family for generations.
Sam Roumanis opened the restaurant in September after a three-month renovation of the space that formerly housed Sushi.com. Mezes has been a family affair, with his children Dimitri and Aphrodite taking on major roles in every aspect of the operation.
Sam was born and raised in Greece. When he arrived in Ann Arbor at the age of 30, he opened Cottage Inn Pizza, and has been in the restaurant business ever since. His children, who were both born in Ann Arbor and recently graduated from the University, also have experience in the industry.
Sam and his children agree that food has been an integral part of their lives and their family’s cultural identity.
“I’ve been going to Greece since I was a newborn — I mean, I went to Greece for the first time in my mom’s stomach. What’s special is that this is kind of like how I grew up every summer visiting Greece,” Dimitri said. “How I met my cousins, how I met my family, was through food. They don’t have TV or video games, you see your cousins over a meal. And (our food) is what you seen in Greece, and what they spice the food with — the flavors I have experienced every summer going to Greece.”
About a year ago, the family members decided that they wanted to bring their unique, authentic flavors and cooking traditions from their village in Greece to Ann Arbor.
“The way that we prepare our meats, the way we marinade and season, is Mediterranean. We use dill, oregano, parsley, lemon and olive oil,” Dimitri said. “The olive oil comes from our reign of Greece, from my village actually, and the way we prep it, is the straight out of the village, straight out of Greece.”
The restaurant’s main chef, Stafi, was also born in Greece. Dimitri explained that Stafi worked in a restaurant similar to Mezes when he was there, so he has a great understanding of what the Roumanis have envisioned for their restaurant.
“He knows how to prep things we want, how the food is supposed to look, taste and feel to the eye,” Dimitri said.
The quick-paced and casual restaurant serves authentic Greek dishes, costing about $5 for lunch and $10 for dinner.
Dimitri said he thought this type of restaurant, which is very popular in Greece, would do well with the students in Ann Arbor. He added that he would accompany friends to the 24-hour souvlaki restaurants after leaving bars in the early hours of the morning during his visits to Greece.
“I was like, ‘You know, they can do a fast food, something that people want to eat for two euros or about three bucks, and the food is filling and great.’ So I felt like the concept of going into a place, and seeing and smelling what we have, and then getting a gyro in like five minutes, that would be very appealing to students,” Dimitri said.
Kirk Blohm, Mezes general manager, was former general manager of Pizza House and current general manager at Carlyle Grill on Jackson Road, believes that Mezes has been successful thus far due to its fresh ingredients and fair prices.
“What you need to be successful in this town is to give great prices for great food. You don’t try to make a quick dollar, ever,” Blohm said. “What you do is you make sure your guests are getting what they are paying for. Quality, fresh, every single day. It’s all tradition. It’s all made just like in Greece.”
In fact, Blohm added that Mezes doesn’t have the capacity to freeze or store food, so customers can expect fresh, quality ingredients daily.