Dimitrios and John Koukounis came to the United States from Greece in 1990 and for two decades they both worked in the construction business.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic started negatively impacting their business, the brothers decided it was time to switch gears — to the restaurant business. Their father had a handful of Greek takeout spots in Greece and Germany, so the idea was hardly far-fetched.
“We grew up in the [restaurant] business, and he’s been pushing us for many years to open something like that,” Dimitrios Koukounis said. “So we took it as a sign from up above that it was time to go ahead and venture into this new restaurant business.”
On May 17, the Koukounis brothers opened up yērōs, a fast, casual spot serving up classic dishes from their home country, but with a modern twist.
The recipes are made by those who know Greek food best, like partners’ moms and Dimitrios Koukounis’ father-in-law, who makes his own tzatziki.
“Gyro” is the Americanized way of saying the Greek specialty, but the Koukounis brothers specifically chose the name of their restaurant as a way to educate those on how the dish is pronounced.
“Yērō is the right way to say ‘gyro’ — it is a vertical rotisserie, carved meat that we shave off, so we stuck with it,” Dimitrios Koukounis said. “Authentic flavors, authentic taste, authentically Greek, with a 2021 spin.”
Those who visit yērō at 429 Route 25a in St. James can choose from a wide selection of bowls, sides, spreads, platters, apps, sandwiches, and various soups “just like grandma used to make,” he said.
The yērō choices include authentic pork, lamb, beef, chicken and steak. The brothers also included vegetarian options, such as portobello mushroom; halloumi, which is a Mediterranean cheese; falafel; and vegan yērō.
Souvlaki is an actual skewer with either pork, chicken or shrimp that one would get walking down the streets of Astoria and Manhattan, Dimitrios Koukounis said.
“We serve it like that here, which is another thing people are going crazy for because you can’t even find that anywhere,” he added.
Dimitrios said they turned the traditional moussaka, which is an eggplant or potato-based dish, into moussaka bites — potato, eggplant, cinnamon-scented meat sauce, creamy bechamel, served breaded and fried.
Pastitsio bites is another modern take on the Greek baked pasta entree.
Dimitrios said they incorporated a little market within the restaurant for those on the go. Those shelves include hummus, tzatziki, tirokafteri (spicy feta), skordalia (garlic-potato), taramosalata (salted fish roe), and other items.
The “pride and joy” of yērōs is the walk-up window on the side of the building, which allows those looking to grab-and-go without going into the store.
Finish off a meal with some dessert and coffee, like baklava bites, loukoumades (mini donut balls), and a Nescafé frappe, which Dimitrios Koukounis said beats Starbucks.
“People can come in and find products that are not really typically available here in Suffolk County and even Nassau County, it’s (food that’s) more based in Astoria and more dense, Greek-populated areas,’ Dimitrios Koukounis said. “I kind of like that because some people will come in and say ‘oh my god I haven’t seen this anywhere!’ or ‘I remember going to Greece and eating this, it’s phenomenal’ and they’ll grab two as they walk out the door.”
Top: Two yērōs, photo courtesy of the Greek spot’s Facebook page.