Entrepreneur Sotiris Drakopoulos of Olympic Sport Café spent nearly 20 years living and working in Chicago before returning to his native Kalamata.
Sotiris Drakopoulos: A Greek-American in Greece
Part of our series of Q&A with American-born Greeks and Greeks who lived in the U.S. for a time before returning to Greece, who embody the philosophy of WindyCity Greek – doing innovative and exciting things.
This summer, I caught up with Sotiris in his hometown of Kalamata, where he had just begun a new venture – running Olympic Sport Café, on Kalamata’s Ditiki Paralia (West End). We reminisced about his Chicago days, plus, we discussed his new venture, how things are going in Greece, his plans for the future, and his eternal optimism and love for his home country.
Maria A. Karamitsos: When did you come to the US?
Sotiris Drakopoulos: I came to Chicago on October 5, 1989.
MAK: Did you plan to stay permanently?
SD: It was a dream to come to America and another dream to one day return to motherland.
MAK: Why did you choose Chicago?
SD: My sister and her husband’s family lived there, I went to visit them.
MAK: What did you do in Chicago?
SD: A few jobs, but I predominantly ran Parking Facilities for Standard Parking, for 17 years. I also worked for the Greek Consulate for 3 years (at that time I worked only part-time with the parking company), and for 8 years, I occasionally bartended at special events.
MAK: When did you return to Greece? Why?
SD: I returned in January 2008, much sooner than I planned. My father was sick and getting worse, I had to return because family was, is and will always be, a priority.
MAK: Once back in Greece, you went into real estate.
SD: In May, 2008 I opened Monopolis Realty in Kalamata, with an old friend from high school. I received certification from the Chamber of Commerce Department in Kalamata and started working. It’s very different from the U.S. real estate world – much tougher. Tough stomachs are needed for a job like that but I LOVED working for myself.
MAK: You recently embarked on a new journey with Olympic Sport Café. Why the career change?
SD: Four months ago, one of my investor-real estate clients (he rented his home through me) offered me an attractive salary in order to “run” his new sport club café — The Olympic Sport at the Tennis Club area of Kalamata. I had serious doubts but my temptation to do something new, since real estate in Greece had been crippled because of the crisis, was even bigger and I said yes.
MAK: What is your vision for Olympic Sport and Ditiki Paralia?
SD: The cafe is part of the Tennis Club area at a very, very unique-and-full-of-issues piece of land. Politics and other interests have held that entire area back, and our investors, the tennis club people, and us, have decided to stop that and do things that will improve the area and bring people. Ideas like pave asphalt on beach roads, plant more trees, create a park for children only, add lights all over the area, placing a guard to keep an eye during night hours, open access to the sea water and a build a marina – making the area family friendly, inviting, and enticing. These are a few things that are crossing our minds.
MAK: Are you still selling real estate?
SD: Real estate for me is part of life. I have a lot of friends who are still calling me and asking for my opinion and consultation. So I am assisting friends only when asked until I create a new office that will be doing real Estate consulting, someday soon!
MAK: You are very pro Greece—very positive about Greece, its future, what it means to the world. Talk about this.
SD: Greece and Kalamata are places of the WORLD with some special MAGIC. The feeling of being here is AMAZING, even though crisis has been trying hard to bring us down. Our politicians are weak and gutless, and that upsets me; but I do believe that in the near future Greece will manage to survive and be on the top again.
MAK: What do you say to people when they ask, why are you still in Greece? Why won’t you leave too?
SD: I say to them….that if I go, and if people who LOVE this country as much as I do, also go, then the GAME IS OVER. I must stay here now because “MOTHER GREECE NEEDS ME” and a lot of people like me should do the same. It is very tough especially when you know you can go back to a different country and be at a safe job that will cover your needs and your family’s too. But it’s too important.
MAK: Why is it so important to stay in Greece to build a business, a future?
SD: Greece can use new ideas and mentality. We Greek Americans, or Greek immigrants who are looking to return or do return can be really helpful with our experiences, ideas, and knowledge, for the NEXT DAY of THIS BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY.
MAK: You still have family in Chicago. Will you ever come back?
SD: Yes I still have family in Chicago as well as some really close friends. You’ve brought back a lot of memories for me. I was in Chicago in May 2011 and I do miss it sometimes, I must admit. To that note, I definitely want and will come back soon I hope – for vacation.
MAK: What do you want everyone in Chicago to know about the crisis, the challenges Greece faces, and what you see as the future?
SD: Chicagoans, Greeks in Chicago and all over the world, must know only one thing….that if WE ALL REMAIN UNITED, NO CRISIS, NO TURKEY or SKOPIA, NOBODY CAN TOUCH US. SO I URGE ALL GREEKS TO DO THAT, GET CLOSE TO EACH OTHER, UNITE, BE STRONG AND REMAIN THAT WAY !!!!!
Maria’s visit to Olympic Sport Café
This summer, we stayed with family for a week in Kalamata. We met up with some Chicago friends who were in town, and gathered at Olympic Sport Cafe. It was a little hard to find, but we were excited to see our old friend Sotiris, and his new place.
My husband is a tennis nut, and he was excited to see all the tennis courts. It was later in the evening, and we had parea, so he vowed to come and hit some balls next time.
We went inside to find Sotiris, and as always, he welcomes you with his huge smile and great enthusiasm.
Our group sat at a table on the terrace, and the service was prompt. Sotiris recommended a bottle of Tselepos Moschofilero, which we enjoyed to the very last drop. The warm Kalamata air and beautiful sea view, plus great parea, and a wine made by a winery in Tegeas — birthplace of my maternal grandfather—made the evening perfect. We ate like kings. There was something magical in the air for sure – everyone in our group, ranging in age from 83 to 6 years old – just felt good – enjoying the scenery, the evening, the food and wine, and of course, good friends and family. It was one of the best nights of our trip.
If you follow Olympic Sport Café on Facebook, you will see that they are hosting live music events, and have been the venue for special events, like baptisms. It is definitely a great spot for a party.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the combination of Sotiris’ overflowing love for Kalamata and Greece, paired with great warmth and zeal make him the perfect person to lead Olympic Sport Café to success. And surely, he will lead the charge for redevelopment of the area. If Sotiris Drakopoulos is involved, it will happen.
Olympic Sport Café is located on the Ditiki Paralia of Kalamata.