Zenon Taverna, a staple of Greek and Cypriot cuisine for the Astoria community of Queens, New York for more than 33 years, served its last customer at the end of November.
According to the Zenon Taverna website, the last day the Greek-Cypriot taverna operated was Sunday, November 28. “We want to start off by saying Thank you. Thank you to our customers, our community, our family and our friends. With your support our small taverna grew into so much more – a pillar in the community, a refuge for Cypriots young and old, a home away from home,” a message on the website read.
“For 33 years our family has worked tirelessly bringing Cypriot and Greek cuisine to New York. We hope that we were able to bring our culture, traditions and of course delicious cuisine into your lives and hearts.”
Zenon Taverna, located on 31st Avenue in Astoria, was established in 1988 by Stelios Papageorgiou, a chef who immigrated to the US from Cyprus. The restaurateur worked three jobs in order to make his dream of opening a restaurant a reality.
From Papageorgiou, the reins of Zenon Taverna passed to his daughter Elena and her husband, Harry Ioannidis. Zenon was entirely run by the family up until its closure Sunday.
The news saddened many in the Greek and Cypriot-American community in New York. The famous Cypriot cuisine of Zenon drew customers of all ethnicities. Many patrons traveled to Astoria from the entire tri-state area to taste the unique delicacies offered by the taverna.
For three decades, Zenon was the spot for local residents to get a taste of Cyprus in Queens. Zenon Taverna’s specialties included “keftedes Kypriaki,” fried meatballs made with pork, shredded potatoes and mint, as well as “avgolemono,” traditional Greek chicken and rice soup, made with egg and lemon.
The owners said they had to close due to the challenges of running a small business.
“Unfortunately the last almost two years have been very difficult for small businesses like us,” the owners of Zenon stated on their Instagram account.
The eatery became a popular place for Cypriots living in the New York City area to dine on the authentic cuisine of their home country.
“It is with heavy hearts that we have decided the time has come for us to close our doors,” Zenon’s Facebook post states. “We don’t want this to be goodbye, but rather see you later. Astoria is our home and we hope to see you all again.”
Zenon Taverna Popular with Locals and Non-Greeks
One of the Zenon’s neighbors and longtime customers, Andy Apostolopoulos, had effusive praise for the restaurant on the taverna’s Facebook page. “Thank you for all the great memories you and your family have given us in the neighborhood! I grew up around the corner from your store and remember when it was a social club and then of course Zenon taverna!
“We have had many good times and countless memories. Thank you again for the 33 years I will always remember how kind and generous Stelios was to my senior citizen parents and have much respect for that!”
The Zenon Taverna also was a place where many local residents hosted special events like small weddings, bridal and baby showers, baptisms, birthdays and more thanks to its second-floor banquet room.
It also helped feed frontline hospital workers by partnering with the organization Frontline Food Queens; it also hosted online cooking classes during the pandemic.
Many longtime customers said they were “heartbroken” and “absolutely gutted” to learn Zenon was closing. Several said Zenon Taverna was their go-to spot for date nights and their recommendation for visitors; it was also where they had experienced many important life events.
Former Astoria council candidate Evie Hantzopoulos wrote about the importance of Zenon Taverna in an Instagram post.“…There are plenty of restaurants in Astoria that serve good food, but I’ve never seen one so community-minded, with the most generous of hearts.”
Elena Ioannidis tells the story below of how her family’s taverna morphed from a social club to a unique Greek and Cypriot cuisine experience.
Ioannidis managed and ran Zenon for almost a decade until she began her own family. When she stepped back, her husband stepped in; however, her parents were always in the kitchen.
Ioannidis described her father’s long culinary journey, the restaurant’s place in the community and its rich tradition of homemade food.