Athenian Grill’s dream expands to The Summit


Ilias Pappas is the owner of Athenian Grill and Deli, which is one of the many stalls located in The Barn at Fritz Farm. The Barn is one of Kentucky’s first food halls and shows many small restaurant concepts that are all dedicated to Kentucky traditions. Photos taken at The Barn media day on Friday, September 15, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Lauryn Haas

The dream began while Ilias Pappas was summering in central Greece at his grandmother’s house up in the mountains. Located in a rural area, there were no fast food chains or restaurants for convenience. The milk was locally bought, the traditional recipes were passed down and a love for cooking was born.

Pappas founded Athenian Grill to share his recipes and passion for authentic Greek cuisine with the people of Lexington in late 2011. What started as a food truck has now grown into three restaurants with brick and mortar locations. The newest is inside The Barn at The Summit at Fritz Farms.

“We started the food truck with a limited menu, and it was successful. We were always getting comments [from customers] like, ‘We cannot wait for you to have your own place,’ or, ‘We can’t wait to come and sit down,’” Pappas said. “We decided that we felt the momentum and if we do it, if we have the opportunity to do it, people will come. And that’s what happened.”

Pappas moved from his childhood home in a small town near Athens, Greece, to the United States in 1998 to attend UK. He studied as a hospitality management major for two years before moving to Miami, Florida, to finish out his undergraduate studies at Florida International University. He said he always knew in the back of his mind that he wanted to own his own business.

Pappas visited Lexington almost a decade after leaving UK and noticed significant growth in the city. The “tremendous change, for the good, of course” that Pappas observed in Lexington made it the ideal location for him to start his business.

“I thought more and more, ‘How can we bring authentic Greek cuisine to Lexington?’ Because Greek is different from Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s different from Persian cuisine, it’s different from Turkish cuisine, it’s different from Italian, it’s different from Mediterranean,” Pappas said. “I thought about what if we try to offer as close to the same as what the family serves when I visit back in Greece. The closest that there is to that. That is kind of how I started it.”

The food truck grew to the Chevy Chase location, which the Lexington community has supported “from day one to now.” Chevy Chase expanded to Locust Hill. Almost three years ago, representatives from a soon-to-be development called The Summit recognized Pappas’ hard work and dedication to not only his craft but also to Lexington and approached him about opening a location in The Barn. Pappas says he always wanted to have a presence in that part of town, and he now gets to work alongside other local restaurateurs.

“We have such a good group of local businesses,” Pappas said. “People look at the Summit as a big development with a lot of out-of-state investments and out-of-state businesses, but we are truly locally owned and embrace the small business approach that is the food hall.”

The location at The Barn offers all the traditional Greek favorites: tzatziki, classic and roasted red pepper hummus, gyros, Greek salad and spanakopita. Pappas recommended their Greek beef stew kokinisto with the roasted lemon potatoes and salad on the side. His other top recommendation, one of his favorites, is the lamb souvlaki, a freshly-grilled leg of lamb that also comes with your choice of side. He described it as “a very delicious and very filling dish.”

“We try every day. We work very hard with sourcing the best ingredients possible, we work very hard with local purveyors, and we hopefully will continue to be part of the community,” Pappas said. “We are very thankful we started a business in Lexington, and we look forward for what the future brings.”