Bay Area institution Nick the Greek has popped up in Santa Monica, serving souvlaki, gyros, pita sandwiches and more in a quick-service restaurant space just off the Promenade.
Despite its singular moniker, Nick the Greek actually represents three separate Nicks who are tight-knit cousins from the same food loving family of Greeks.
The man responsible for bringing Nick the Greek to Santa Monica however, is not a Nick, but one Anton Van Happen, who shares the cousins’ obsession with authentic Greek street food.
“I grew up in Europe myself and the Euro pita sandwich was something I could never find anywhere in the US that tasted exactly like it did in Europe, and with Nick the Greek that’s exactly how it was,” said Van Happen.
It may have been love at first bite that initially attracted Van Happen to the brand, but it was the restaurant’s business model that focused on quick-service, fresh ingredients and broad customer appeal that convinced him to sign on as a franchisee.
So far SoCal locations of Nick the Greek have opened in Ventura, Newport, Westlake and Westwood, but Van Happen is particularly excited about the Santa Monica location.
“Santa Monica is really a nice central hub for tourists and visitors, and that definitely helps the name get out, especially the fact that we’re on the corner of the Promenade; that’s exactly why we picked Santa Monica to be in,” said Van Happen.
The menu is based on traditional family recipes, many of which were passed down from the three Nicks’ grandmother. The preparation method is true to the streets of Greece with all meat cooked on skewers or a rotisserie and all vegetables and sauces prepared fresh in store.
The menu has a balance of healthy and indulgent dishes.
The Greek salad is a simple combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, peppers, kalamata olives and feta cheese, without any of the lettuce that American versions of the dish will often add. Meanwhile, the pork souvlaki pita includes skewered pork cooked over an open flame served inside a pita stuffed with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki sauce and french fries.
“A funny thing is, for example, the Euro pita sandwiches we add like four or five french fries in there, and sometimes you get customers walking into the store going ‘oh that cannot be traditional Greek, you guys are trying to put an American twist on it’,” said Van Happen. “That’s not it. It really actually is like that in Greece, you get a Euro pita and it’s got french fries in it.”
The desserts are also a menu highlight and include baklava, Greek frozen yogurt, and traditional Greek beignets called loukoumades, which are topped with nuts and honey syrup.
“What a lot of people come to Nick the Greek for is our Greek frozen yogurt,” said Van Happen. “You can either have it plain, it’s got a tart flavor to it, or you can have it with crumbled baklava and honey on top to sweeten it up, and people just go crazy for it.”
Nick the Greek is open for dine-in, takeout and delivery at 219 Arizona Ave, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.