“Love” is the main ingredient of the new family restaurant Epik Diner in New Haven

NEW HAVRE A few days after the shoot in George Kavourakis‘The Maryland Dinner for his Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” host Guy Fieri returned with his family – away from the cameras – so they too could sample Kavourakis’ creations, especially the potato crusted salmon.

Kavourakis said Fieri turned to his wife after tasting his signature salmon creation and said, “I told you,” referring to the fabulous flavor.

Now, the dish can be ordered right here in New Haven, at the new Epik Diner & Bake Shop on Whalley Avenue, owned by Kavourakis and three other family members with deep roots in the restaurant business.

The seasoned family staff includes Kavourakis’ wife, Daniela, the “house executive pastry chef” who prepares a multitude of desserts, including 25 kinds of cheesecakes; her daughter, Vicki Weisse, who served at her first table at the age of 8 and works “in front of the house” to greet customers and manage staff; and Weisse’s husband, Dano, whose mission is to learn George Kavourakis’ unique recipes and carry on the legacy. Dano Weisse has 20 years of experience in the Italian family restaurant business.

“It’s a family affair and we want to be a fixture in the community,” said Vicki Weisse. “We want customers to be happy, create memories and enjoy food. … We want you to feel like family.

The restaurant at 1426 Whalley Ave. most recently was Amity Diner, which closed after a few years. For decades before that, it was the popular Athenian Diner.

While Amity Diner’s modern purple decor remains, Epic has made some changes – an 11-foot-long dessert crate greets customers who walk through the door and looks like something “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. The kitchen guts are also new, including the grill, flat top, line, and appliances.

Epik Diner opened on November 17th and they already know the names of the regulars and customers hail Vicki Weisse as “Vik”.

Patrons Donnie and Desiree Bouttry from Westville said the food is so good that they plan to eat their way through the menu.

“Dinner is great. The food is excellent, the people are great – very friendly ”, Desiree Bouttry noted. “We will go through the whole menu step by step. “

Donnie Bouttry said he’s spreading the word about the new restaurant in their neighborhood.

“It’s not getting any better,” he said. “The first day they made us feel like family.”

Making customers feel like family is their goal – and love is in every recipe, said the Kavourakis and the Weisse.

Vicki Weisse said they wanted this to be the kind of place they watch clients’ children grow up – she reminds them, “We have a 25-year lease.” Weisse said she also wants parents to know their children are safe at the restaurant because one of the owners will always be there. She hopes this becomes the kind of restaurant where parents give their kids money and say, “Go to Epik for a shake and a burger.”

The restaurant offers everything from traditional pancakes, omelets and burgers to Kavourakis own creative concoctions such as BLT filet mignon, short rib grilled cheese, pulled pork and grilled macaroni and cheese cheese. Kavourakis makes all soups and sauces from scratch and even makes their own spice blends. He grates every potato for the popular crusted salmon dish that Fieri has fallen in love with.

“Our menu is huge because we have a Greek father who doesn’t believe in small menus,” said Vicki Weisse. She said her father was “not cheap” when it came to food and would spend more money on the best ingredients.

George Kavourakis, 73, said: “I think you have to spend money to make money. You can’t fool people. When a salesperson comes by, if I don’t like how something looks, I say, “Show me another.”

He came to this country from Greece in 1968 and took a job as a dishwasher in New York City. He was making $ 50 a week and quickly realized that line cooks were making $ 85. He learned to be a line cook – after being fired twice for faking this – then realized that chefs do even more, so he became a chef, then a pastry chef, learning on the job.

He happened to be bursting with creativity when it comes to recipes and that’s how he made his name in the business.

“It makes me happy when I make customers happy. It makes me feel good in my heart, ”Kavourakis said, placing his right hand on his chest.

Eventually, he owned cafes and restaurants and built such a reputation in the Greek restaurant community that he became a practical consultant hired to right sick diners – and met with huge success.

“They say, ‘George, the kitchen is yours, the bakery is yours.’ … They trust me, ”he said.

Fieri visited Kavourakis’ Broadway Diner in Baltimore in 2009 and praised Hungarian goulash, the Broadway festival seafood pasta dish, as well as potato-crusted salmon, calling the latter a “one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on ‘Triple D’” – his show’s nickname.

Fieri says at the end of the episode, “George will take you to Flavortown,” an endorsement referencing a mythical place Fieri created where food and fun live in harmony.

Now Kavourakis enjoys spending the time teaching her son-in-law how to cook her recipes. The plan, he said, is for Dano Weisse to learn the signature dishes so Kavourakis may take extended getaways in Greece, although he doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon.

“My son-in-law is doing very well” Kavourakis said, noting that a recent day Weisse had cooked the matzo balls to perfection by the time Kavourakis arrived.

Dano Weisse said that working alongside her stepfather in the kitchen is an “invaluable” experience.

“The knowledge he can give me is priceless,” said Dano Weisse. “I hope I can continue his recipes, his legacy.”

George Kavourakis taught his wife to cook a few years ago and “she took what my dad taught her to a different level – she’s creative,” said Vicki Weisse. Daniela Kavourakis’ cheesecake flavors include the salted caramel pretzel, and she is proud of her Black Forest cake, lemon meringue, and linzer pies.

“I put a lot of love in my cakes,” she said. “People tell me my cakes are heaven on a plate. “

Its shakes are elaborate – the strawberry cheesecake shake is topped with a slice of strawberry cheesecake, while an Oreo ice cream sandwich sits atop the Oreo shake. Another is filled with colorful cotton candy.

The business requires long hours, hard work and patience, but she said when she sees a customer’s ‘face light up’ as they take a bite or a sip, gives extra power that I can carry on. It’s extra fuel.

“When you love something, it doesn’t feel like work,” she said.

George Kavourakis came up with the name “Epik” – as in food is “epic” – but they went with a “k” at the end rather than a “c” as it is unique and worked best with social media , Vicki says Weisse.

Vicki Weisse said that despite all of his father’s “knowledge” he always says, “If you see something you like, tell me, maybe I can improve it.”

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