Dimitra Nikolakou had just one question to ask the new general manager at Gratzi Ann Arbor. There was no beating around the bush, or in this case adding extra seasoning to the dish. This was a yes-no question – hold the ketchup.
“She asked me point blank if she would have the opportunity to be the head chef here someday,” said Xander Gudejko, General Manager and District Manager for Gratzi Ann Arbor.
Dimitra got the answer she was looking for – the rest was up to her and she was fine with that.
“She had a goal to be the chef here and nowhere else,” Xander said. “This was where she wanted to be and was going to do whatever it took to accomplish her dream. She has been the head chef here for three months now and is doing a fantastic job.”
Mainstreet Ventures Restaurants is known for not only hiring from within but allowing their employees to advance and move up the ranks from one important position to another. And the head chef is obviously a very important position.
Dimitra, who was born and raised in Greece, has lived in the United States for the past six years. “I grew up in a family that used to cook all day and every day,” she says with a proud smile. “From when I was a little child I was always around food and cooking and I would watch them whatever they were doing in the kitchen. So when I was home cooking was my hobby, something I just enjoyed doing.”
Dimitra decided to turn her hobby into her lifetime’s work. Why not do something you love for a living – made perfect sense. But Dimitra had to start at the start when she got here. And she was fine with that.
“I got a job in a restaurant in Athens and I used to do everything,” she says, again flashing that proud smile. “I was the server, the cook, dishwasher … I did everything. So when I came to the United States I decided to make cooking my career.”
She started applying for jobs and was hired by Mainstreet Ventures.
I was at a different restaurant for a while and worked really, really hard. I knew what I wanted, but I knew I had to work hard to get there. Then I came to Gratzi and knew I wanted to be the head chef. So I worked really, really hard doing everything I could. And here we are two or three months later and I’m the head chef.Dimitra Nikolakou
Dimitra really likes her new home. “I love Ann Arbor,” she says. “There are a lot of parks. I love the river. And all the art here is wonderful. I think the people here are the same as in Greece.”
Dimitra has her favorites (the Filetto di Manzo and Pollo Marsala are near the top of the list) and of course she likes Italian cuisine.
“It’s very similar to Greek cuisine so it’s something I am familiar with, and what I really like is making everything from scratch and everything is fresh,” she says.
Talking about Gratzi and her staff is another topic that cooks up another big smile – she is proud of her team at Gratzi. They all bring a certain passion and work ethic to the table.
“We make a really good team,” she says. “We know each other well and work together well. Sometimes it gets intense back in the kitchen because we are all passionate about our business. Sometimes you will hear me raise my voice really loud and other times you will hear me laughing really loud. We need to work together and we always do.”
No one appreciates the passion and team work more than the general manager.
“I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants with all different types of chefs,” says Gudejko, who has been at Gratzi since May after he helped open The Chop House in Toledo. “And Dimitra is a chef who works really, really hard. I know everything will be taken care of back there.”
Dimitra also does a number of promotional events for Gratzi including the popular “Farm to Table” where folks can meet her at the Kerrytown Farmer’s Market, shop with her and then head back to Gratzi and watch her prepare a dish or two using the locally sourced ingredients.
Hard work, a dream and passion have landed Dimitra exactly where she wants to be – head chef at Gratzi. And that, of course, makes her smile.