img description

Elbow Greece

Working nonstop for 24 years, Eleni Fetokakis built her restaurant.
By Wendy Grossman - Houston Press

Eleni Fetokakis runs her Greek-American cafe, Niko Niko's, with a German work ethic. She tells employees if they want to relax, go home. She says she isn't running a school, she's running a restaurant, and she doesn't have time to teach everyone how to do everything every day. If someone isn't doing something right, she follows behind giving orders and corrections. This is nothing new. She's operated like this since the beginning. "She was a tyrant," remembers her 28-year-old son, Dimitrios Fetokakis. She fired him almost every day (until he bought the place).

Eleni was born in the back of her father's restaurant -- just after lunch Christmas Day, 1937. Most of Niko Niko's recipes she learned in her father's kitchen just outside Athens; the rest, her husband and son invented. Cleanliness is what Eleni is most strict about. Everyone who works in the restaurant is constantly cleaning; as soon as the woman finishes mopping the floors, she starts again. The 12 Blue Ribbon Awards Marvin Zindler gave Eleni are proudly displayed by the register. Customers have complained that the place smells like Pine-Sol. 

Forty years ago Eleni was a popular singer touring Greek nightclubs from Athens to L.A. Then she fell in love with a man who loved food. They married and eventually landed in Houston and opened Niko Niko's. At one point her husband gave up on the place, wanted to sell everything and move back to Greece. He left, but Eleni stayed, keeping the business alive and building it into what it is today: a crowded restaurant presided over by a woman who won't stop working.