Boro keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos has opened a Greek restaurant in Middlesbrough. GREAT, serves modern Greek food in a comfortable, relaxed environment. Sited on the Clifton Street corner of Linthorpe Road it is right, bang in the heart of the restaurant and night life sector of Middlesbrough’s main drag.
Nestled beneath student halls and just over the road from the big Weatherspoons pub, Swatters Carr, Dimi Konstantopoulos could not have picked on a better location for his new restaurant, opened with childhood pal and business partner, Nikos Pitsoulis. Nikos has relocated from Greece along with the head chef. But 10 new posts have been filled locally.
But if you are thinking that this is a sign that Dimi is slowing down and looking towards retirement then think again as he reveals to us in his interview, hanging up his goalkeeper’s gloves is the furthest thing from his thoughts. Dimi arrived here as third choice keeper and now four seasons later he is waiting his turn again from the same position. Give him a chance and he fully intends to pounce on it.
Last week I joined media people and had a chance to sample a little food. Apparently you are pick and choose main courses now that the restaurant has opened. The menu opens with a choice of Greek starters from Tzatziki to Htipiti – that is fest cheese spread with chilli peppers. All £3.95.
Main dishes start with Pork Yeeros £11.90 to Whole Roast Chicken £10.90 and special club sandwich £12.95. There are three Greek salad options and then a selection of wraps and burgers, including Sovaki skewers. Oh and don’t worry there are chips and side dishes. And desserts for a fiver. Plenty of options to try.
Anyway, I plonked myself down at a table with Dimi and fired some questions in his direction about the restaurant, Boro and himself.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about your restaurant. A lot of us will have travelled to Greece and the Greek islands and sampled the food but could you tell us a little about the food in Great please?
Dimi: This is traditional cooking that you find everywhere in Greece. It can be a take away or you eat a sit down meal, there are places like that everywhere in Greece. It includes a lot of variety of different meat cooked in different styles and salads. I think it fits very well to the British mentality because in my experience they like that sort of thing.
Q: Looking out of the window here on Linthorpe Road we can see many different types of restaurants and they all do well but no Greek food.
D: Yes that was the idea I think there is a gap in the market. We looked around the area and there was nothing similar so we thought it was a good idea because as you say there are a lot of different styles of restaurant around here but it is good to offer the people of Middlesbrough the option.
Q: I have heard that you enjoy eating out in local restaurants when you can.
D: Yes, I love food, obviously I can’t have exactly what I want because of my job but I do like to try different things and I go many places not only in Middlesbrough but around the area. Yes, I think a lot of people like to try new things and this is a good option for them to have.
Q: I live not far from here Dimi and I saw the signs going up in the windows a long time ago so I know that you have spent some time doing this. You are obviously trying to do it properly.
D: Yes we said from day one that we have to do it properly. If we do something like this then it needs to be 100% quality-wise. Everything should be spot on. This is something we have been planning for the future as well. We want people to come here and enjoy the food and everything to be clean and very efficient from the service and so they leave this place happy.
Q: You have a business partner from Greece and a chef from Greece but you have employed some local people as well.
D: Yes it is partly something for me to give back to this area that has given me so much. To invest here. Since we started having this idea straight away I said the best place to start is here in the north east and in Middlesbrough. Yes, there is no better place for me to start a venture like this.
Q: How many years is it now since you first came to the area and joined Hartlepool?
D: Yes, there was a spell of three years when I went to Greece, it has been altogether about ten years now. So, I have spent most of my professional career in the north east and it feels like home to me. My family is settled here and my wife is from Hartlepool and it is where I have my home.
Q: From my experience of going in restaurants in Greece it seems like a social thing as well as eating. Would that be fair to say?
D: Yes, it is like a ritual for them in Greece people like to spend a few hours eating and talking, nibbling and having a chat and a laugh. It is not the same here because people sometimes go out and eat and they go straight away. But we are flexible. If people want to spend their time here and enjoy a few drinks. Because we have the option of a little variety, you don’t have to stick to the same main course you can try different things and pick. So, maybe people will take some time.
Q: I notice you have the four tv screens. Like a sports bar.
D: Yes we want it to be a bit contemporary and simple really.
Q: You are certainly not stepping into a taverna here are you?
D: No we didn’t want to go down that road because the kind of food we are offering is not taverna food it is more traditional Greek food. We have done this design where the designer did the whole project. The tellys are part of this, they will be showing videos and music. Something for people to look at. There will be music as well. We are trying to make it as enjoyable as possible for people to have food here.
Q: You are beneath a student hall here aren’t you?
D: Yes, student accommodation, so I think it is a good spot to open a restaurant. There are a lot of students upstairs so we hope they will come and try some food. We will see what happens.
Q: Can I please ask you a few questions about football. You joined Middlesbrough three or four years ago now?
D: Four seasons ago.
Q: I don’t suppose you dreamt back then what would happen over the next couple of seasons. You were third choice weren’t you?
D: No, it has been a tremendous journey for me. I have enjoyed every step of it. I came to the team on a short term contract but I always believed in myself, I always thought I need a chance and if I get a chance I will prove myself. That is what has happened in the past and I was lucky to be given a chance and then from then on it started going upwards.
Nothing has changed for me; it is the same story now. I have done it before whenever I am given the chance and I will do it again.
Q: People might not realise that prior to joining Boro you had been playing at AEK Athens, so playing in the top league in Greece.
D: Yes and Europa League as well, European football. I have some good experiences on my CV. I have played for many big clubs and I am proud of it.
Q: You must also be very proud of your record at Boro, especially last season with so many clean sheets.
D: Yes it is something I take great pride in. I was lucky to be amongst a set of lads who were really working hard, really working together. They were a good team and still are. To have this record and to be in the record books of the club is something special.
Q: And of course to experience the drama of clinching promotion in the last game against Brighton. Going down to the very last seconds. That must have been special.
D: Yes, it was a bit of a roller coasterm as a season and a game. But we came through it and we are here now and we are very grateful and we are enjoying our time in the Premier League and I think we have the potential to be in this league for many, many years.
Q: What about you for your future? You have said that you want to continue playing as long as you can?
D: Yes, I feel good, I feel fit, I feel sharp. I train every day and I train hard. I still have the urge to improve myself. So, it is not even in my mind yet about retiring. When I get to the stage that I wake up on a morning and I am not feeling as happy going to work and am not feeling that I want to try any more then I will retire. But for now I am feeling like I was feeling ten years ago. So as long as I feel like that I will continue.
Q: I was going to say, so you are still hungry to play football…
D: Yes, (laughs) that is a good one.
Q: Thanks very much I am looking forward to coming here and trying the food and celebrating a Boro win.
D: Yes, I will get the lads in soon to try it as well. I have already told them they are expected.
Photos by Tracy Hyman (below head chef, Dimi and Nikos)
Great is open 11am til late. You can find it on twitter @GreatGreekFood