Veteran restaurateur satisfied with intimate venue downtown
With his Mediterranean looks, slightly graying hair, and engaging smile, Nikos Theologitis could have come straight out of central casting as a Greek restaurateur.
The ebullient proprietor of Niko’s Greek Kitchen in the West Street Market in downtown Reno not only looks the part, but lives it.
Preparing to celebrate four years in business in his current location next March, Theologitis and his wife Jacqui run the restaurant with the help of a staff of two.
He has lots of experience in the business. He operated a bar and restaurant in Athens before coming to the United States, and has owned two pizza parlors in Reno.
Theologitis moved to the United States in 1980, arriving in California with his former wife, who was from Los Angeles. While working in Daly City, he visited a Greek friend in Reno, fell in love with the Biggest Little City and moved to northern Nevada in 1982.
He first worked at the MGM Grand, serving at the “Hello Hollywood Hello” show, then worked in the hotel’s steakhouse. After nine years at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, where he worked as a dealer and met and married fellow dealer Jacqui, Theologitis left to open his first pizza parlor.
Business boomed, and Theologitis became the owner of the 300-seat Greco’s Pizza and Playland, featuring pizza, Greek food, belly dancing, and amusements.
After selling Greco’s and taking some time off, Theologitis decided to get back into the business with a smaller Greek restaurant.
He sought help with a business plan developed with the help of the Nevada Small Business Development Corporation at the University of Nevada, Reno. Armed with the business plan and a recommendation, he obtained a loan with the help of the Nevada Microenterprise Initiative, which uses funding from the Small Business Administration to provide loans to very small enterprises.
“My experience, plus the fact that the city owned the property, helped me get a $35,000 loan to start up,” said Theologitis. He still had equipment from his previous restaurant, but the total startup cost was in the neighborhood of $75,000.
Relations with the city were good at first, but when the economy soured and the city laid off people, it caused problems.
“We had a good understanding with the people we were working with at the city, but when they left and new people came in, things didn’t happen as we were told they would,” he said. After a rough patch when the city was undecided about keeping the property, and rumors circulated about the West Street Market closing, things are improving.
Theologitis has a loyal customer base, and knows most of his regulars by sight if not by name.
“They usually order the same thing, so when we see them come in, we start preparing their order. Sometimes they will be third in line, but get their meal first,” said Jacqui Theologitis.
“We use only fresh ingredients, give good-sized portions,” added the restaurant owner. “Nobody leaves hungry.”
He does little advertising, relying primarily on word of mouth to bring in new customers, and it seems to be working.
Theologitis likes the smaller, more intimate size of Niko’s Greek Kitchen compared to the larger restaurants he has owned. He is able to take a couple of days a week off now, after spending every day in the business the first year. His future plans include opening two more locations, but the locations and timing have to be right, as does hiring the right staff.
One thing Theologitis has left to do is to become a U.S. citizen. “It’s something I should do, and I will do it before I retire,” he said. When asked what advice he would give to someone thinking about opening a restaurant, he laughed and said, “As long as it’s not Greek, go for it!” Then, more seriously, he said “I would tell them to not go overboard and open too big a place. Taxes, payroll, equipment, and rent will eat up the profits. The main thing is to know what you’re doing, and love what you’re doing.”
“A comprehensive estate plan is also crucial for business owners. Without an estate plan, or at least some succession plan, the business can collapse rapidly after the owner’s death, ultimately causing a financial hardship for the deceased’s family.”