Kosta Doulaveris believes pizza and delis are two of the brightest feathers in his native New York City's cap.
And despite rising food costs, Doulaveris and his family are trying to combine those New York specialties in a new Rock Hill restaurant the family says is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Zach Doulaveris, 30, brother Kosta, 28, and their 54-year-old father, George, owners and operators of York Seafood Restaurant for 20 years, have opened Empire State Pizza and Deli in a vacant restaurant space on Celanese Boulevard. The diner opened last month in the former Quizno's space in front of Hooters.
"We took a risk," Kosta admitted last week. "We know the economy is bad and food costs are high, but sometimes you have to jump at an opportunity."
The Doulaveris' opportunity was made possible because the previous tenant had outfitted the building for a Quiznos sandwich franchise on one side and a grill on the other. When business didn't pan out and the shop closed, an empty restaurant, complete with all the equipment, went back on the market.
After 20 years serving seafood in York, the Doulaveris boys decided it was their chance to expand.
"The capital needed to upgrade the building was really low," Zach said. "We felt like it was a good time for us."
Benefiting from their father's experience as a Greek immigrant who operated a Manhattan diner before moving to the Charlotte area three decades ago, the brothers turned the restaurant into a New York-style deli and pizza parlor.
"Our father is the American dream," Kosta said. "He's a great example. We don't take that for granted."
The menus are simple. Thin crust pizzas are served whole or by the slice. The dough and sauce is handmade from a family recipe. The whole family takes turns in the kitchen.
On the deli side, bread is baked fresh in nearby Charlotte. High-end Boar's Head brand meats and cheeses are carved for sandwiches, but also sold by the pound just like an urban deli. Salads are on both menus.
"Greeks know how to make a good salad," Kosta brags.
In addition to the original seafood place and the new pizza and deli venture, Kosta recently opened his own Greek pita shop in Fort Mill's Plaza Fiesta mall called "Bravos." He and partner David Burlingham have been serving souvlaki and gyros for about four months.
Even though they're expanding the family business, the Doulaveris brothers have faced the same economic pressures as other restaurants. The ascension of food costs has forced them to cut waste and re-evaluate portions. In the past year, they raised prices on seafood for the first time in four years.
At his new venture one morning last week, George Doulaveris, the father, shrugs and says business has been slow to start. Zach says it will take persistence and good marketing to establish the same loyal customer base that made York Seafood one of the busiest restaurants in western York County.
The trio started offering half price pizza from 2 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and lunch specials to boost business. They believe the heavy traffic created by Interstate 77 and neighbors Outback Steakhouse and Hooters will be a positive draw. York County's limited selection of authentic New York-style cuisine is another reason the family believes success is possible.
Among the three owners, there is half a century of restaurant experience at the helm. Zach Doulaveris predicts that will be the difference in the long run.
"I don't think anybody opening a restaurant today will have an easy go," he said. "The thing that will get us through is our experience."