2017 Businessperson of the Year: George Giannaris

The Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant in East Marion has been a family-owned business on the North Fork for a very long time.

Beginning with John and Anna Giannaris, the same family has owned and operated the iconic snack bar since 1976

Now the restaurant is run by their son George, who’s been able to keep his parents’ dream alive. For his dedication to his family business and the community he lives and works in, George Giannaris is our 2017 Suffolk Times Businessperson of the Year.

Restaurant manager Debbie Volinski said Mr. Giannaris has helped the Hellenic to evolve with the times. She began working there as a waitress when she was just 14, back when his parents ran it. Now 40 years later she’s still there, managing alongside Mr. Giannaris.

“George is so knowledgeable with everything,” she said. “He just tries to make things better at the restaurant.”

When the restaurant celebrated its 40th year in business, for example, Mr. Giannaris planned 40 special events throughout the year, such as a “one-of-a-kind offering” day or giving away free soup or lemonade.

This past year, he began making his own gelato. Inspired by a seminar he attended, he spent about three months trying to perfect his own recipe before the restaurant opened for the 2017 season.

“He’s really done it all,” Ms. Volinski said. She added that she cannot think of a more deserving honoree, stating that Mr. Giannaris took the foundation his parents left for him and built upon it.

“It says a lot,” she said. “If you look around, how many businesses have sold in all the years … and how many new businesses there are and Hellenic has stayed the same business for 41 years.”

During a Suffolk Times interview in 2016, Mr. Giannaris said he wanted to move the restaurant into the future, while also retaining customers who have been loyal patrons for years.

“We have a huge amount of customers that have been coming here for decades. We get a lot of families as well, yet the region is changing,” he said at the time. “We’re seeing a lot more people in their 30s coming down this way, trying the wines, and they have no idea who I am. I just want to be approachable to that generation as well, but not lose my original foundation.”

To do this, Mr. Giannaris likes to keep many of the original menu items while also welcoming requests and suggestions for new ones.

Rick Coffey and his wife own The Coffey House bed and breakfast located next door. He said he considers Mr. Giannaris one of his best friends. He said Mr. Giannaris’ work ethic and passion are what keep the snack bar successful.

“He never stops,” Mr. Coffey said. “When George pursues something, he goes after it with a passion.”

When he stops by the restaurant on Sunday mornings, Mr. Coffey said, he will often sit with Mr. Giannaris and watch as he reads Yelp reviews about the restaurant and personally answers each one.

“If you aren’t happy with the experience, which is extremely rare, he makes it right immediately,” Mr. Coffey said. “He cares about literally everyone’s experience and he passionately wants to make it perfect for everyone.”

Mr. Coffey added that Mr. Giannaris also opens his restaurant to the Greenport Rotary Club for meetings and roasts turkeys for his church at Thanksgiving. He described him as “quietly and passionately giving his time and money to help the community.”

While Mr. Giannaris can typically be seen walking around his restaurant greeting and conversing with old and new customers, he will also jump back on the grill when things get busy. Mr. Coffey said Mr. Giannaris loves food and incorporating local North Fork ingredients into his family’s recipes.

Mr. Giannaris has also published two books, “Ferry Tales” (2008) and “Ferry Tales 2: When Hellenic Freezes Over” (2016). In them, he talks about the history of the restaurant, family recipes and tells funny stories.

In a Suffolk Times interview about his first book, Mr. Giannaris said he was inspired to write because he wanted to make sure his family history was recorded somewhere for his sons, Yianni and Savvas.

At the time, he attributed the restaurant’s success to his father’s “gifted palate,” his mother’s persistence and attention to detail, and the ferry traffic that provides a constant stream of customers, even in the dead of winter.

Mr. Coffey said he’s seen so many restaurants in the area come and go over the years, but the Giannaris family restaurant is still as good as ever.

“To be there for over 40 years is outstanding,” he said. “It just shows his commitment to the community, to the North Fork and his passion for the people who live out there full time.”

Photo caption: George Giannaris  (right) with son Savvas scoops up some housemade gelato at Hellenic Snack Bar & Restaurant in East Marion. (Credit: Vera Chinese, file photo)

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Previous Winners

2016: Lucy Senesac
2015: Wendy Zuhoski
2014: Greenport Harbor Brewing Co.
2013: Charlie Manwaring
2012: Jill Schroeder
2011: Shelley Scoggin
2010: Peconic Landing
2009: Rocky DiVello
2008: John Romanelli
2007: North Fork Press/Academy Printing
2006: Soundview Restaurant and Inn
2005: Joe Frohnhiefer
2004: Dan Damianos
2003: The Arcade
2002: Kate McDowell
2001: Mattituck Chamber of Commerce
2000: The Harbes Family
1999: Sue Rempe
1998: Bob Scott
1997: Jackie Copas
1996: Richard Mullen
1995: The Claudios
1994: Jeff Strong
1993: The Hargraves
1992: The Rowsoms
1991: Mark Middleton
1990: John Wickham
1989: Ray Terry
1988: Dave LeFreniere
1987: Linda Livni