Celebrating a Spartanburg restaurant’s six decades of business
By Bailey Griffin and staff
Photographs by Michael Griffin Jr.
Cinnamon flies around the kitchen as Pano Stathakis gathers chopped nuts and dough while his mother, Anne Koutsogeorgas Stathakis, butters the pan. They are demonstrating for ELYSIAN how to make baklava, a honey-soaked Greek pastry – a dish perfected through generations.
Greek history itself is tucked away in each of this iconic dish’s myriad of layers.
Often called the fountainhead of European cookery, the 6,000-year-old gastronomic continuum tells the story of civilizations past and present. When Minoans arrived in what is now Greece around 2,700 B.C., they discovered a bitter native fruit they began to cure and press. The resulting comestible, olive oil, became the economic foundation of their civilization. From the Roman conquest of 146 B.C. came the thin phyllo pastry dough used to make tiropita, spanakopita and sweetened pies. The Ottomans next ushered in Central Asian foods, such as rice pilaf and loukoum. These milestones represent a thumbnail view of the breadth in which this cuisine has influenced the world, largely due to its ability to be adopted, adapted and expanded.
The Stathakis family immigrated to the United States in 1902, and the restaurant was a cornerstone of their heritage. In 1951, John Stathakis and his uncle started their first restaurant in Anderson, S.C, called Pete’s Grill.
Uncle Jimmy and his wife, Despo, served as refuge for family members displaced during the Greek civil war. Almost a decade after John Stathakis moved to the United States, he returned to Greece to marry Anne in 1959. According to Greek custom, the newly wedded couple honeymooned for almost a year there before returning to Anderson, then moving to Greenville. Finally in 1961, the Stathakis family opened Sugar–n–Spice on Pine Street in Spartanburg, where it continues its rich history in the same location today.
A living testament to this strong culinary upbringing, in early 2016, Pano Stathakis opened PANOS Catering. To remain true to his country of origin, every two to three years, Pano travels to Greece to reconnect with his heritage. These three-month trips consist of staying in Athens half the time and in his family’s village of Karyae the other half.
Athens is a hip, metropolitan city filled with the latest European trends, including cuisine. In the city, Pano visits restaurants, immersing himself in varied styles of cooking. While in the village, he assumes a more natural and traditional way of cooking. His uncle slaughters a pig one day; the family eats it the next. Pano said rural Greek cooking is born from what is grown nearby — a circumstance often necessitated by the remoteness of many of the country’s regions and islands.
In Greece, the meze tradition of eating small dishes has spread throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Pano explained the concept allows the culinary experience to move more slowly and deliberately as the meal evolves into an experience — not just consumption. Sitting around the table, enjoying the company of your friends or family, is the best and only way to truly enjoy a meal, Pano said. He believes that food is a universal experience, and the act of dining requires us to “slow down and savor” each morsel while sharing in the community around us.
“Every meal should begin with a short phrase,” Pano said, a twinkle in his eye, “kali orexi.” In other words, bon appétite!