This summer in Kalamata, we caught up with Perry Panagiotakopoulos, featured in our very first Greek-American in Greece article. Read on to see what’s new.
Greek-American in Greece follow up with Perry Panagiotakopoulos
Back in September 2015 as this publication was being born, we published a Q&A with Kalamata-based entrepreneur Perry Panagiotakopoulos. The reaction from this article led to the creation of our longest-running and most popular series, ‘Greek-American in Greece’, in which we profile a Greek-American now living in Greece. This summer while in Kalamata, we met up with Perry to find out what’s new. Come along!
Recall that the Chicago-born Perry moved to Greece the first time in 1983 when his parents decided to return to their homeland. He returned to Chicago in 1998 and after 3 years, longed for Hellas. He’s been there ever since. His Chicago connections, however, are still quite strong. Many Chicago friends visit him in Kalamata, and one of those connections led to an important partnership.
Setting trends in Kalamata
Seeing the emergence of high quality Greek wines, Perry got into the game early. His first venture, called Bar Bar, opened in Kalamata’s historic district in 2003, and quickly became a local hotspot. He sold it in 2008. From there, he created the iconic Luna Lounge, a well-known bar/restaurant in the main square in Kalamata. Here, Perry began to sow the seeds for a burgeoning wine revolution in his town.
“Luna Lounge was the very first bistro here. I learned a lot running Luna Lounge, which led me to open η Καντοινα (I Kantoina). After 7 successful years, I felt it was time to move on and put all my energy into η Καντοινα.”
Perry sold Luna Lounge in late 2015, and with his unique imprint on the place still evident, it continues to thrive.
Leading the local evolution of wine culture
The next progression, η Καντοινα (literally, it means ‘canteen’ but he changed the spelling to “oi” to have the work “oino” in it, which is Ancient Greek for wine), opened in April 2015. This wine bar/bistro features an ever-changing menu, featuring 12 dishes – 10 are new every week and 2 signature dishes remain — made by Chef Angeliki Griva, one of the best in the area. Using only fresh and local products, most dishes are made to order. My daughters ordered a bifteki, but this was no ordinary bifteki. At η Καντοινα, they like to call it “homemade comfort food with a modern twist”. Stuffed with mizithra that oozed out as soon as it was cut, this was a delight for both kids and adults.
Go to η Καντοινα for the amazing, fresh food, but also for the real star – the wine. Perry created this wine bar to highlight all the exciting things happening in the world of Greek wine.
“There are many new winemakers, and a brand-new mentality. Many are now into showcasing Greece’s indigenous grapes. We really needed that, in a big way. These unique wines are finally putting Greece on the map.”
We tried a wine we don’t get here in Chicago, a 2016 Xinomavro-Moschomavro rosé from Diamantis Winery. Xinomavro, which many compare to Nebbiolo, is one of my favorite wines, and I’d only recently had tried a Xinomavro rosé. Not only was this blend refreshing on this warm evening, but it went well with our food. It was bright and fruity (hints of strawberry for sure!), but not super sweet. All-in-all, it’s a great summer wine.
With the world of Greek wine evolving, locals now want to try all the new vintages, and they can easily do that here. At η Καντοινα, choose from 150 different wines from all over Greece, those made with indigenous grapes as well as international names we all know, like cabernet, for example. And you can enjoy them for a reasonable price, making the wines more accessible to the locals.
A new home with another Chicago connection
η Καντοινα recently moved to a new location, thanks to a Chicago connection that goes all the way back to his youngest days, to a dear family friend, the late Elena Grapsas, the Greek-American who owned Chicago’s Ultimate Bride and left an indelible mark on the bridal industry. When Perry was living in Chicago in the late 1990s, Elena introduced him to George Garifalis, and the two have stayed in touch over the years. Last year, George visited Perry. George had been looking to make an investment in Greece, and learned about a building in Kalamata’s historic district, near the church of the Ayios Apostolous (Holy Apostles), where Kalamata was liberated on March 23, 1821. The friends visited the building and saw a great opportunity. George called in his business partner — Elena’s husband Constantine — and the purchase was made. With this new partnership, Ithomis 5 became the establishment’s new home.
Larger than the original, the new location is welcoming, with a fantastic outdoor seating area in the lovely and inviting side courtyard that has its own tale to tell. Apparently, the building that houses the restaurant was part of an old flea market and the building across the courtyard was a parking lot, if you will, for the horses. The courtyard in between was a passageway for many early businesses in the area.
When it’s summer and it’s hot, the locals typically prefer to be near the water. Therefore, since η Καντοινα is located in the historic district, it was a bit quieter than usual. Don’t let that fool you, because many people still ventured in to try a new wine. Nevertheless, as the weather cools down, η Καντοινα becomes the place to be, and is teeming with local eager to try some new wines every day of the week. During these months, there are many special events, including visits from winemakers and special tastings.
More wine ventures
Ever passionate about Greece and her wines, Perry recently opened a wine store called Wine Kiosk (Aristomenous 39) in the main square. This shop is all Greek wine all the time, with approximately 500 different types of wine from all over Greece. Perry said you can try many of them right in the store. They also age wine there, and you can find most vintages. Customers can visit the cellars as well, but if you get chilled easily, bring a sweater, because they’re always set on 16 degrees Celsius. Wine Kiosk not only offers wine to buy for your home, but serves many hotels and restaurants in Messinia, Arcadia, and Argolida.
When in Kalamata…
Wine lovers rejoice in Kalamata, thanks to η Καντοινα and Wine Kiosk. When you go to Kalamata, be sure to visit. Tell them we sent you!
We’re so happy to see Perry and his businesses thriving in Greece. We’re sure there’s more to come from him. The Greek entrepreneurial spirit is strong!
Wine Kiosk: Facebook
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