Creating change organically

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Nice N Easy was a pioneer restaurant that injected healthy, bio cuisine into the Greek food world. It began at the start of the crisis, grew stronger as times got tougher, and is still going strong. We explore the magic recipe for its success.

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Over the last few years, the presence of healthy, organic, vegetarian, raw and vegan cuisine has colourfully exploded throughout Athens, with a good variety of top-quality options for nutritionally-rich dining now available. Bio grocery stores and mini markets selling everything from rare dehydrated alpine berries and exotic mushrooms to super fresh regional cheeses and ancient-grain pasta can be found by the handful in central city neighbourhoods and beyond. Fruit and vegetable drinks designed by cutting edge nutritionists are also now sold at juice bars around the capital, with a dedicated clientele. It’s as if the sobering misery brought on by the financial crisis has generated a hearty appetite for clean and healthy eating in Greeks, (after all, you have to be strong to survive!). The majority of people still relish a quick souvlaki, endless hours of tsipouro-infused meze nibbling on lazy afternoons, or designer cocktails (accompanied by cigarettes) at trendy bars, but newer generations are now well aware of the intrinsic value of a healthy, seasonal, balanced diet, just like the one yiayia used to nag about. And besides, it’s very trendy.

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When restaurateur Dimitris Christoforides and acclaimed Chef Christos Athanasiadis partnered in 2008 to open a bistro called Nice N Easy, Greeks were however not in the least bit interested in any of this. Ingredients such as wild growing kale (lahanida in Greek, which was a major food staple during the dramatic famine the country experienced during WWII and deleted from national memory ever since) or south American quinoa, were as yet unheard of. Authentic traditional Greek cuisine has always offered an abundance of healthy options – from oil-based, vegetable ladera and pulses to fresh fish, village meats, goat cheeses and medicinal herbal teas, but a health food conscience as it exists today still lay latent.

_mg_7204_fotorIn that sense, the two worldly entrepreneurs had conceptualised something way ahead of its time for unassuming Greeks. “Health has always been a priority for me; I used to go to bouzouki clubs and take my own Tupperware with healthy food. They used to laugh at me and call me ‘the crazy American’!”  says Christophorides, who spent over 30 years running restaurants in Los Angeles, where he was initiated into Hollywood’s insider secrets of healthy gastronomy.

_mg_7078_fotorFirmly dedicated to their vision of pioneering the emergence of an organic food scene in Greece, the dynamic duo made it their mission - both for the sake of saving money, as organic produce was five times the price of non-organic at the time,  and high quality - to seek out the purest, freshest possible products from around the country. “Until 2012 we were travelling all the time,” says Christophorides, “building fair trade collaborations with small farmers and selling top quality, gourmet-style dishes at very reasonable prices.”

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This was an extremely brave move to make, considering the crisis was born at around the same time as Nice N Easy was created. Yet the crisis didn’t touch them – instead it bolstered their business: “When the crisis really hit, all the other markets plummeted while our sales sharply rose – everybody was closing down and we had lines of people,” Athanasiades says. “Suddenly people woke up and realised the true meaning of value for money.”

With a devoted clientele of what the owners describe as “opinion leaders”, insecurity suddenly set in that other restaurants may copy what they were so successfully achieving. “So I thought up an idea of creating tiers of features in our menu that would make us unique. I honed in on what I had that others didn’t – an intimate know-how of what the Hollywood stars liked to eat. And thus we created dishes like the Marlon Brando, a massive burger with bio beef from Arcadia, the Sean Connery, freshly baked wild salmon with herb and citrus crust on quinoa tabbouleh, and many more. We also listed all the nutritional information of each dish, something that had never been done before here.”

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Despite organic and health-inspired menus no longer being anything new to Athenians, the ongoing success of Nice N Easy, which also has restaurants in stylish Mykonos and the posh northern suburb of Kifissia, is probably based on the fact that it accommodates every kind of diner, not just health-fanatics, with its easy going ambience and a comfort-food-style menu. “Some people simply don’t give a bleep about healthy!” says Christophorides, “They just want a big, juicy, fatty burger. They are welcome too, and we offer that too… It just happens to be organic!”

Recently, the restaurant has also started running healthy cooking seminars for kids and adults in collaboration with a nutritionist.

niceneasy.gr/

Kolonaki: Omirou 60 & Skoufa, Athens, tel: (+30) 210 3617201.

Kifissia: Papadiamanti 7, Kifisia, tel: (+30) 210 8082014

Alexia Amvrazi

Alexia Amvrazi enjoys the thrill of discovering beauty in the world around her. With a passionately hands-on approach to Greece's travel, gastronomy, holistic living, culture, innovation and creativity, for 20 years she has explored and shared her findings with the world on all aspects of the country and its people via writing, radio, blogs and videos. Although her childhood and early youth in Italy, Egypt and England left her feeling somewhat root-less, she is by now firmly connected to her native land, bravely weathering the hurricane known as the Greek crisis!