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The Greeks Who Took Over Miami’s Hospitality Industry

Greek of Miami Aleco Harambides
Aleco Haralambides, is a Greek American lawyer born in Miami and a vibrant member of the Greek community of Miami. Credit: AP/Greek Reporter

The Greeks of Miami make up a vibrant community that includes many entrepreneurs excelling in the bar and restaurant business; raising the standards of hospitality in South Florida.

Since the economic crisis that hit Greece in the 2010s, many Greeks arrived in Miami to establish their businesses here. Many of them succeeded in living the American Dream.

Lawyer Aleco Haralambides, who is one of the few Greek-Americans born and raised in the city, says that, after the crisis in Greece, “we did see quite a few Greeks with no connections to Miami whatsoever, come here and decide to try and open up shop.”

Greek entrepreneurs mainly established restaurants and bars. “They started small, but they are doing well. They are happy they came here,” he says. “They have raised the bar in hospitality. People are proud to say they are of Greek ancestry.”

The Greek community has been present in Miami for over seventy years, and Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral opened its doors in Miami in 1948. There was a thriving Greek community in the 1960s and 1970s as well as a competitive basketball league, Haralambides, born to a Greek father and Cuban mother, tells Greek Reporter.

“Miami was a sleepy town in the ’70s,” he remembers. “There were a lot of hippies in Coconut Grove, where I went to school as a kid. I grew up close to Miami Beach, an area that was mostly populated by elderly people.”

Greeks in Miami created places reflecting Greek islands

However, now, things have changed. Certain locales and places strive to replicate the type of entertainment and luxury services found on the Greek islands of Mykonos and Santorini;  suited to Miami’s climate.

“Mykonos and South Beach have always had a kind of symbiotic relationship,” Haralampides says. “The jet-set crowd comes to Miami in the winter and goes to Mykonos in the summer.”

Demetrios Pyliotis, a chef and restauranteur, says that Miami has become “a little Greece.” The owner of Poseidon Greek, a seafood restaurant in the heart of Miami Beach, went to the US city on vacation to visit his brother during the crisis in Greece and ended up staying. He opened a successful restaurant business.

Greeks of Miami Piliotis brothers
The Piliotis Brothers on South Beach in Miami – Credit: AP/Greek Reporter

“One of the reasons I stayed in Miami Beach is that it reminds me of Greece,” Pyliotis tells Greek Reporter. “Because so many Greeks came to Miami and opened restaurants, Greek food became mainstream.”

“You can live the American dream,” he added. “If you work hard, you’re going to have a reward. In Greece, nobody guarantees you will get your reward if you work hard.”

Kiki on the River is a Greek bar and restaurant in Miami featuring modern Greek cuisine and an authentic Mediterranean island-inspired riverfront setting complete with a hundred and fifty feet of dock space.

Aris Nanos, Greek of Miami
Aris Nanos is the managing partner of KIki on the River, one of the most well-known restaurant-bar establishments in Miami. Credit: AP/Greek Reporter

Owner Aris Nanos named the restaurant after his grandmother. Now, Kiki is a world-renowned bar.

“It is a huge success because I added the formula of Latin Greek, the beach club theme with the bottles, the nightlife, and the good food,” Nanos explained. “Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump, David Beckham, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James are among the personalities who have visited Kiki,” Nanos notes, adding that Greek entrepreneurs have set the standard of hospitality at Miami Beach.

Miami has changed drastically in the last decade

Miami has changed drastically in the last decade. Miami Beach, for instance, is a place where everyone wants to be, not just because of the weather and the sun that shines throughout most of the year but also because there are a lot of jobs available in the booming city.

Panagiotis Sinaidis, a former professional soccer player in Greece, who describes himself as a VIP host, opened his business Hermes International and Nighttime Miami Vice in the city.   “Miami is a place that you come to and stay,” said Sinaidis. “It’s paradise! Greeks can do a really good job wherever they go. We work hard, and we can make our dreams come true.”

The economic situation in Greece brought Sinaidis to Miami. “Here you can find an opportunity every step you take,” he said. “If you take the chance, you can grow. In Greece you have limits. Here, there are no limits.”

Greeks Miami
Miami Skyline- Credit: AP/Greek Reporter

Greeks in Miami live the American Dream

Among the first Greek entrepreneurs to arrive in Miami during the financial crisis in Greece was Giannis Sotiropoulos. He decided to sell his business back home and invested that money in Miami.

He is now the owner of Copper 29 Bar, another club with a Cuban concept, a security company called Pretorian Security Protection, and GRK Design, a construction company.

Greek entertainment in Miami
Greek-themed entertainment in Miami at Kiki’s on the River. – Credit: AP/Greek Reporter

“We were among the first Greeks to arrive and grow in the restaurant business,” he said in speaking to Greek Reporter. “We have the experience of Kolonaki, Mykonos which we brought along with us. People like it. It’s a little different from the rest.”

“Our goal was never to just make money,” he admitted. “Our goal was to show that, as Greeks, wherever we go, we can achieve great things. This was always our dream. The American Dream exists if someone is prepared to work hard—to devote at least sixteen hours to work each day.”

Makis Paliouras is another Greek who lives the American Dream in Miami Beach. He owns a trendy coffee shop specializing in Greek coffees that are making a breakthrough in the market.  “All Greeks come here to try our amazing coffee,” he says.

“Since we tried it, it is our favorite spot,” says a Greek customer. “The coffee tastes exactly like it does in Greece.”

“We were searching for Freddo Espresso and we found it here,” says another patron of Paliouras’ coffee shop.

Related: Archimedean Academy: The Best School in Miami Teaches the Art of Thinking in Greek!

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