Athens: A Taste of Greece in Nashville

He came from the Northeast side of Egypt and somehow started a Greek restaurant in Nashville. Go figure.

Owner of Athens Family Restaurant Adele Elosetta is one of those men who stands an average height, but appears much taller. It may be his tan skin, dark facial hair and deep-set eyes that give him an intimidating extra inch or two. Or maybe it’s his low and raspy Middle Eastern accent that demands all eyes and ears on him when he speaks. Or possibly, it’s all the stories he has stored up that cause him to be taller than his body gives him credit for.

He lit a smoke and leaned back in a black iron chair on Athens’s porch to begin telling the story that brought him here.

Years ago, a young Elosetta told his dad he “wanted to go and see the other side of the sea.”

So, he spent a great deal of time working on a cruise ship. He was put in the kitchen on the ship with a Greek chef. He knew little about Greek food, and less about English. Soon, his inexperience and cultural barriers landed him the position of manager of garbage.

“Nothing in my life was an automatic success,” Elosetta said.

He worked hard aboard the ship, and in seven years, he made his way from manager of garbage to assistant cook, second only to his Greek boss.

He also spent three years in New York to earn his degree in hotel and restaurant management. With nothing more than a jean jacket, a backpack and $300 in his pocket, he moved to the city. For a guy who now owns his own restaurant, he ironically did not eat well back then. Broke and hungry, he’d buy one sub sandwich and one beer every day, having half for dinner and half for breakfast the next morning.

Tired of New York’s cold winters and even hotter summers, he made his way south to a city he felt had a lot to offer: Nashville.

He met his wife Dina and friend Mohammed Rasras here, and together they brought the Athens he knew from the cruise ship to Nashville.

The place is not too impressive from the outside. The Greek flag-inspired blue and white striped building is easily missed driving down Franklin Road, but once inside with an authentic beef and pork Gyro waiting to be devoured, Athens will be a place visited often.

Elosetta is owner of the business, he also is head cook, accountant, personal confidant and more.

“I wear many hats, too many in fact,” he said.

Under so many hats, he becomes close with his employees. He loves his staff, he said.

Staff member Rachel Fike has worked as a server at Athens for two and a half years.

On a busy Wednesday afternoon, she runs the room, grabbing checks and appetizers left and right, thanking people for their patience and wishing them a good rest of the day. Sixteen or more tables can easily be under her belt at one time, and she said it’s still calm around here, even on the busiest days.

“It’s just because everyone comes together to help, and it works,” Fike said.

Because it’s family owned, the staff becomes very close, she said.

“I know their kids. They know mine. We have family meals together, Fike said.”

She looks forward to coming to work because of the people she works with, but even more because of her guests, she said. Fike has regulars who have grown up here.

“They spend their meals here with us,” she said.

They spend every day with her, sometimes coming to eat multiple times a day. Sometimes, even three times a day.

To the far wall, two ladies sit at a table by the window. They are finishing up a birthday celebration and what looks to have been Greek salads. A birthday card and remnants of Feta cheese show what a late lunch at Athens is all about. It’s a place to meet up with an old friend when a chain restaurant on West End Avenue won’t do.

Leanna Eagleson, a coworker of Fike’s, has served at Athens for three years. She has hardly nothing negative to say about the place. The worst thing that happens at work is the coffee spilling, she said.

She is a tall lady in her 40s and a mother to seven. She moves quickly between tables, talking to guests in a warm and genuine Southern accent. Wide and excited eyes sit behind a pair of purple glasses that frame her friendly face. Serving is something Eagleson has done all her life, and she’s done well enough at Athens to earn her the position of lead server during the breakfast and lunch shifts.

Taking this job three years ago, she knew nothing about Greek food. With a menu of gyros, mousaka and chicken souvlaki, she had a whole new language to learn.

“There‘s nothing I can’t do,” Eagleson said with an upbeat attitude.

She now knows and loves the food so much, she has a hard time picking a favorite dish.

“I can‘t name just one,” she said.

The bacon lamb burger is a top-seller, and Eagleson would eat it everyday if she could, but she is also a big fan of the kleftiko lamb.

The lamb burger’s popularity is no surprise. Featured on the Food Network, the TV-star burger traps a couple of strips of bacon atop a thick lamb patty smothered in Swiss cheese and chili seasoning.

The burger’s cultural mix of ingredients is a good representation of restaurant itself. It doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit a guy from Egypt would make his way to Nashville, Tenn. to make Greek food served by a waitress with the sweetest Southern accent. But somehow it works in the blue and white striped building on Franklin Road.