Embodying the Greek Welcome of Philoxenia

    Chris Balouris, owner of Salonika Imports in the Strip District, opened Bellevue’s Evia Greek Restaurant in November 2020, just two blocks from where his uncles and his dad, Themistocles, once owned and operated the Bellevue Restaurant for almost 40 years. “We all grew up working in the restaurant,” says Chris. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 1991 with a degree in business, he moved to Connecticut and ended up working in sales in the food industry. He earned his MBA in marketing from the University of Connecticut in 1999, and had always dreamed of being an entrepreneur.

    “I went to college and did my thing, and came back to Pittsburgh with my wife, Chrysoula, in 2003. I bought Salonika in 2006. I’d been thinking of opening a restaurant for years where I grew up in Bellevue, and we thought it would be a cool twist to open a Greek restaurant—which would put to expert use the many products we’ve been importing for Salonika.”

    Chris and Chrysoula crafted Evia’s menu from family recipes handed down through generations. Evia—where Chrysoula does much of the cooking—serves traditional Greek fare such as spanakopita, dolmades, pastitiso, and avgolemono, a classic Greek egg-and-lemon soup with orzo. They also serve other Greek dishes and specials that that you won’t find anywhere else in Pittsburgh, but would likely encounter in an authentic taverna in Greece.

    Finding the ingredients for these authentic recipes is easy at Evia. “If any Greek restaurant needs something, we have it at Salonika,” notes Chris. Originally established in 1977, Salonika offers top-notch Mediterranean products such as olives, vinegars, cheeses, roasted red peppers, and more. They also import and sell Mediterranean and Middle Eastern goods from Bulgaria, Spain, and Turkey. Salonika supplies restaurants and retailers around the region, and their retail store at 3509 Smallman Street is open to the public.

    “Many of the products on Salonika’s shelves are exclusive to the Pittsburgh area, and these would include our imports using our own brand name, for such items as olives, extra-virgin olive oil, capers, pepperoncini, roasted crushed eggplant, and more.”

    Chris and Chrysoula travel to Greece every year to visit relatives and keep up on the latest developments in Greek cuisine—and of course to shop for quality products for both Salonika and Evia. Their desire to share their Greek heritage and culture through food came naturally, and Evia itself is named for the Greek island where Chris’s father was born and raised.

    For the future, both Chris and Chrysoula will be constantly trying to grow the business in both its retail/wholesale and restaurant aspects. “Evia is another way for customers to experience how our Salonika foods are creatively prepared,” notes Chris. “Those who buy and love our retail products can either ask us at the store about ways to prepare—or combine—their favorite ingredients, or just visit Evia to experience the expert preparations of Greek dishes using what can found at Salonika.”

    One of the driving forces behind both Salonika and Evia is the concept of philoxenia. “When you go to Greece, people treat you like family, even if they’ve just met you,” says Chris. “Food is such a huge part of Greek culture. Philoxenia means your arms are open to strangers. That’s what we believe—our arms are open to everyone, and we want our guests to feel like they’re at a family dinner every time they come to Evia Greek, and for our Salonika customers to feel like they are stepping onto the set of the old TV show Cheers, into a place where everyone knows their name.”

    — Greg Suriano, with Aleita Hermanowksi

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