Stavros Celebrates Decades of Satisfied Diners

6.1 min read| Published On: May 30th, 2024|

By Amanda Valderrama

Stavros Celebrates Decades of Satisfied Diners

6.1 min read| Published On: May 30th, 2024|

Legacy of Flavor

Stavros Kountanis and wife Amanda immigrated from the Village of Mystras in Greece to Connecticut in the early 1970s. There, after he achieved culinary certification in Canada, they opened an Italian restaurant. But it wasn’t long before Amanda had enough of the cold weather so they decided to move to Florida.

Fifty years later, Stavros and Sons, the family-owned business they started, is flourishing in two Lake County locations. 

It all started in 1974 when they opened the Original Stavros Pizza House in Daytona Beach. They continued to open additional locations within the area while raising their sons, Michael and Pete, but they sold their restaurants and relocated to the Leesburg area for a change of scenery more conducive to raising a small family.

 The Kountanis family shared their love of Greek food with their adopted community by opening Stavros restaurants in Leesburg, Fruitland Park and Eustis. Eventually, Stavros and Amanda sold the Leesburg restaurant. Then, in 2016, they decided to step back and entrust their sons with running the remaining two locations. Their oldest son, Pete, and his wife, Heather, took on managing Stavros and Sons in Eustis, while George and his wife, Cyndi, manage the Stavros and Sons in Fruitland Park. 

While Amanda and Stavros passed down their business, they are keeping themselves busy. Amanda splits her time between the two restaurants, helping where needed. Stavros rotates his time between the United States and tending to the family’s olive grove in Greece. 

A family affair

Cyndi and George’s two kids have also helped off and on at the restaurant. Their son, Steven, works part time behind the wine bar as he finishes his degree in business at Culver-Stockton College and plans to join the U.S. Air Force flying fighter jets. Their daughter, Amanda, is pursuing a degree in business and ballet at Butler University in Indianapolis. Both parents are big supporters of their children living out their dreams. Maybe they’ll come back and join the family business, but Cyndi feels that they need to do the things they’re being called to do in their lives.

A true Floridian, Cyndi grew up in Wildwood, but she agrees with George that their Greek and Southern cultures have similarities. Both are very much about family, food and tradition. So when they met, those core values were aligned. 

“Greek family is just warm, loving and passionate and they live really big,” Cyndi says. 

George was born in Daytona Beach, however, he and Pete spent most of their childhood attending elementary school in Greece while living with family. They moved back to Florida toward the end of their middle school years and attended Leesburg High School. 

Cyndi and George were 19 years old when they met through a mutual friend during a night out in Orlando while Cyndi was on Thanksgiving break from Liberty University in Virginia. They stayed in touch and continued to talk over the phone when she went back to school. The distance didn’t deter them. The two became inseparable and three weeks later, she came home for Christmas break and never went back. This year marks 25 years that they have been married as they continue to spend all their time together between running a successful business and raising two kids. 

Both have individual roles at the restaurant but still work side by side on everything. Cyndi does the bookkeeping and handles public relations and community outreach matters. George’s role is more focused on the back-of-the-house and day-to-day kitchen operations. 

Being southern, Cyndi also loves to bake. When they first opened in Lake County, she wanted to find another way to contribute besides waiting tables so she started making cakes. They quickly became so popular that Stavros started offering additional desserts provided by distributors to help with the demand. This has put less pressure on Cyndi, who now makes about two to three cakes a week for the restaurant. And man, do they go quick. 

“I feel better not having to keep up with the demand as much, because then it keeps it from feeling like a job but more like I’m doing it because I love to,” she says.

On the menu

Stavros food is best described as comfort, Mediterranean Greek Italian. The menu features staple items – pizza, Greek salad and several savory pasta dishes. Five generations of family recipes contribute to how truly authentic and delicious Stavros’ food is. The pizza dough recipe has never changed since George’s grandmother Polytimi Kountanis first made it. 

If you ask Cyndi, she’ll tell you one of the best dishes on the menu is their Greek Chicken. It has artichokes, mushrooms and black olives sauteed in a marsala wine sauce tossed with chicken and served over linguine pasta. 

The restaurant offers something for everyone depending on what you’re in the mood for. If you’re coming in with a group or family, then pizza and spaghetti or lasagna might be your go-to. If you’re on a date, then the Greek Chicken would be a great dish. And depending on how hungry you are, you can count on having leftovers with their generous portions. 

And George and Cyndi are working on new Greek items to add to the menu. They are paying attention to their customer base and enjoy curating the menu based on what they know people like. 

“We know our customers want super comforting, old-school Greek Italian food,” Cyndi says. “Like the same pizza I was eating from here from when I was 8 with my softball team.”

Doing better for their customers

The Fruitland Park location has a new addition that has enhanced the dining experience – George’s Wine Bar. The light bulb lit up in George’s mind when he recognized patrons waiting outside to be seated. He would walk out and offer customers a drink because he felt so thankful for them being there and their willingness to wait. 

“My husband saw that there was a need,” Cyndi says. “He came to me and said, ‘Honey, we’ve got to do better for our customers.’” 

A classy, laidback lounge area, the wine bar gives guests the opportunity to enjoy their wait for a table. The beautiful, white marble bar top spans across the room with dark wood-stained high-top chairs lining it. The wall behind the bar is red brick layered with a 1940s-style polished, gold mirror fixed in the center. On both sides of the mirror, shelves hold several varieties of wine. There are a few tall chairs around wooden barrels that have been transformed into tables. The wine bar is a quiet, relaxed space where you can enjoy a cocktail, a glass of wine or beer. You can also order from their full menu at the bar if you prefer not to wait for a table to eat. It’s quite the contrast from the dynamics of their dining room, located on the other side of the wall. 

“It’s just a quieter place and it’s not such a bustling space compared to the restaurant,” Cyndi says. “Then you go into the dining room and it’s this classic, homey-warm welcoming feeling that you get with family.”

Looking toward the future

What lies ahead for Stavros is to be determined, but one thing is certain – family and customers are always there to support them each step of the way. 

George and Cyndi are working on opening a third location after purchasing family property in Wildwood from Cyndi’s grandparents. The land was zoned commercial, and the ball was slowly rolling as they tried to get things lined up for the infrastructure. Then the pandemic hit, and things came to an abrupt pause. Regardless, Cyndi attests that their business remained afloat during the time thanks to its customers. 

“We are always so grateful for them,” Cyndi says. “There were so many businesses that had to close their doors, this community kept us open during a time that we all were struggling, and we appreciate them so much for that.” 

Although they had to put plans for the new location on hold, Cyndi insists that door is not closed. The couple is patiently waiting for the right time, hoping the economy will stabilize. They would love to open another location and know their guests would love it too. 

As grateful as they are for their customers, they are also so thankful for their staff. 

“We are such a family. We have a server who has served tables for Stavros longer than I’ve been married into this family – that’s over 25 years,” Cyndi says. 

There’s something truly special about the relationship that the employees and their customers share. Staff always make it a point to connect with customers. Servers know right away what regulars will order. Cyndi enjoys being able to stop by tables just to catch up with guests about life. 

Family values run deep between the Kountanis family and their customers. They have guests who they’ve attended weddings with and customers who they’ve known as kids and now they have kids of their own that are dining with them. 

Whether you’ve been to Stavros before, or plan to in the future, one thing is certain – you’re going to be treated like family.  

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About the Author: Amanda Valderrama

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