Paul Vagianos is a busy man. In addition to serving as the mayor of Ridgewood, NJ, Vagianos owns the Ridgewood location It’s Greek to Me. (Other locations include Clifton and Fort Lee.) And yet, Vagianos’s biggest accomplishment is not what he does or what he’s built — but who he’s chosen to work with.
Paul Vagianos and company have amassed, curated, and held onto a staff that has allowed the Ridgewood location to take on a life of its own. Rather than offering just another restaurant chain with a brand name, the team in Ridgewood has secured a list of regular customers, as well as a reputation for great food and quality service.
About the Food
“When people are looking for advice, I tell them the Chicken over Sauteed Spinach one of the specials, is my favorite,” he said. Then, laughing, he added, “You will never go wrong with the owner’s favorite meal. The Chicken over Sauteed Spinach is grilled chicken over a bed of fresh spinach sauteed with tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, onion, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. I’ve turned so many people on to that dish, and they can’t get off it.”
Vagianos is naturally tuned in to what his customers like. His extensive menu contains everything from homemade hummus and soup to fresh fish and other seafood.
It’s Greek to Me offers lunch and dinner selections that will satisfy picky eaters as well as more adventurous guests. Looking for something you’ve never had before? Appetizers like the sesame-crusted feta might fit the bill. It’s a sweet and savory dish of feta cheese, sesame crust, and honey drizzle.
“We get fresh fish every morning,” said Vagianos. “Our swordfish in the vinaigrette we make is so special and so flavorful, you can’t get it any place else. We spent days and days to get the right cocktail for that vinaigrette. And the whole or fileted branzino: My wife, who does not eat fish, will get the branzino whenever she comes. It’s that good. We make it taste great, and it’s so simple. The Mediterranean selection of foods — the vast majority — is very simple, healthy, and delicious. And it’s varied.”
For the most part, though, Vagianos seems to let the food do the talking. “If it’s not on the menu, it’s not good. And if it wasn’t good, people wouldn’t come.”
The Dining Experience
Vagianos displayed his commitment to every facet of the customer experience at It’s Greek to Me in Ridgewood. The owner expressed his attention to the restaurant’s setting and ambiance. The indoor dining experience is that of a comfortable café — with classic dinner tables and booths.
He spoke of long summer days spent in the outdoor dining space as well. “I love dining outdoors,” he said. “We’re busy during winter, but we have a beautiful outdoor café — an outdoor room with accordion doors and fans, set in the shade. Customers are sitting outside. We have flowers, umbrellas, canopies — this is when we shine. For six months of the year, I work outdoors. I love being out there. We may have the nicest outdoor cafe in Northern New Jersey.”
A Standout Team Member
As illustrated above, Vagianos had so many words for his special team of employees at It’s Greek to Me in Ridgewood. However, one specific employee drew his praise: The story of a nice man with no restaurant experience, who’s been with Vagianos since the beginning.
“Orlando started working for me two months after we opened,” Vagianos said. “He’s a server who does everything that needs to be done to make sure the place is running smoothly. He is a good, hardworking, decent individual. In 27 years, there has never been one complaint about Orlando from any of the thousands of customers or staff. Everyone loves this man. He knows and remembers what you order every time. Our staff treats you like they know you. For Orlando, he takes one day off a week, and on that day, people ask where he is.”
Paul Vagianos even explained that the truly tuned-in regular customers know which day Orlando takes off from work, and they’ll plan their trips to It’s Greek to Me around his schedule!
While some reports suggest the restaurant employee turnover rate is closer to 60%, the other end of the spectrum puts the average restaurant employee turnover rate at 200%. Either way, if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know this spot’s retention level is something to be proud of.
“I have gone for more than a decade, at times, without replacing a single person,” said Vagianos. “They’re all important and we’re a partnership. Illness or personal problem? Take the time you need and get paid. They know this place feeds their family. We don’t have a handbook on this. It’s not complicated. And we enjoy the fruits of that every day — I do, the staff does, and so do the customers.”
“Treat people with respect whether you’re President of the U.S.A., or a dishwasher,” he said. “It’s the same guy who has been making a spinach pie for 25 years. And t’s the same guy folding filo dough and making spinach feta mix. It’s consistent.”
Consistency Is Key
“After 27 years here, and marrying my wife 40 years ago, I can say this restaurant is the second-best decision I’ve ever made,” shared Vagianos. “We’re wonderfully successful and I am living my dream. I love going to the restaurant and meeting people every day. This restaurant is like my third child. I have two daughters in their 30s with kids, and a 27-year-old restaurant. Just like we’ve molded our kids to be good citizens we look at with pride and joy — the same happened with the restaurant. It’s almost as special as one of my children.”
And just like raising children, restaurant work is a never-ending endeavor. And Vagianos finds great joy in consistent improvement and in never being satisfied with current success.
“We’re always trying to find something to tweak,” explained Vagianos. “Some people don’t know what [Mediterranean food] is. But then they try our stuff — from baby lamb chops to our hummus. Our regulars have been coming in with their kids. These same kids come in when they return from college and bring hummus back to dorm rooms.”
It’s Greek to Me
21 E. Ridgewood Ave.