By David Bjorkgren
Special to the Hellenic News of America
When Steve and Olga Karpontinis came to America from Athens in 1978, they decided to bring a little corner of Greece with them.
Thirty-nine years later, they own and run Greek Corner, a restaurant in Hamilton, New Jersey that brings authentic Greek food to an area where such food was noticeably lacking.
“Every corner (of Greece) is a shish kabob place (souvlaki). It’s traditional. Same thing with the gyro,” Steve Karpontinis says.
His restaurant began in 2008 as an outside stand at the Columbus Flea Market. “There was no Greek food in the flea market and I knew our (authentically Greek) shish kabob was going to be the best,” he says. He was selling 600 shish kabobs a day. “It was like 15 other places with shish kabob and I had the line,” he says.
People asked him when he would have a place indoors so they could sit down and eat. Plus, he was tired of winters that were too cold, summers too hot and the rain.
About a year-and-a-half ago, he opened Greek Corner at 2200 S. Broad Street. It’s the Greek authenticity that separates his restaurant from other gyro and shish kabob places.
Guests can find avgolemono and Fasolada, and Tzatziki is an appetizer. Greek specialties include big portion pastichio platters; gyro platters and beef stew. For dessert, try the homemade baklava.
Steve does concede one non-Greek item: pizza for the kids that come into his place 40 at a time from the high school next door.
Steve, 65, and Olga, whom he married in 1970, arrived in the United States with their children’s future on their mind. “I have kids and I thought it would be better for my kids, he says. They have two sons and two daughters.
Olga is an excellent cook, learning from her own family, passing cooking knowledge and recipes down family member to family member.
Steve began his career in the United States as a painting contractor before turning it over to one of his sons, opting to go into the restaurant business.
With a nod to his wife, he opened Olga’s Pizza in Trenton, then another in Hamilton. He closed those and went to work at the Hamilton YMCA cafeteria, but it closed, so he opened the stand at the flea market.
Olga enjoys showcasing the home-style dishes she makes from the family recipes. “I ask her how you do this and she never tells me,” Steve says. “She says I have a big mouth” and will tell everybody, he jokes.
People come as far away as New York and Pennsylvania for the food. One customer visits once a week from Toms River for 10 gyros at a time, even though there’s a gyro place around the corner from his house.
Every Friday, the restaurant invites local Greeks (there are about 50,000 in the Trenton area) and Greek fans to a night of Greek singing and dancing.
“I’ll sing sometimes,” Steve admits, with a laugh.
To find out more about Greek Corner visit www.greekcornernj.com.