Interview

Nodas Kekatos - Zafi's Luncheonette

Nodas: Used to be I worked at a different place, a few different places, and then I make on my own and this is the Zafi’s. [I’ve been here] 25 years. 50 years ago, a guy same town I come from Cephalonia, his name is Zafilopolous, [had a store here]. Because everyone knows it, I keep the same name [and I’m from] the same place [as him] Cephalonia.

I’ve been in the U.S. 32 years.… I never cooked on the other side, I never dreamed to become a cook or a chef or to be in the restaurant business.… I come over here, I start working hard, and the first thing I learned, I worked in a restaurant, how you manage a restaurant, how you cook, how you serve people. Now, here I am.

Used to be I’m working very hard, 5 o’clock in the morning to 6 o’clock in the night, 6 days a week. And that happened for 15-16 years. After, later, my kids come in [two sons that work in the restaurant], they learn too, I take some time off and enjoy life…

The secret to keep in business, is to put the people before the money. You gotta see, you gotta love the customer like yourself. You like him before his money. Then after that, you keep a nice store, respectable, nice, clean, then you’re there. You don’t have worry about anything.

You have to know yourself when you do business. If you don’t know yourself, you don’t know what to say, you don’t what to serve, you don’t know nothing.… If I know myself, I don’t care who’s going to be next door because I know I give you the best. No matter what the other got, you’re gonna come back to this place, you’re gonna come back to me. At least 2, 3 or 4 times a week. And I expect you come every day, because I’m good to you. You know me for 35 years, you’re not gonna give that away. No way. And that’s the secret to doing business.

[I always made] fast food. I try a few Greek, moussaka, sometimes, pastitzia, gyro. Not too many Greeks [in the neighborhood], I tried few times, but nothing happens. [Most of my customers are from] around here. It’s the neighborhood. That’s another thing.… If you see them every day you can’t fool customers. If you think you can fool customers, you fool yourself.

Everything we sell over here, is made here. Nothing from the can, nothing from outside. Anything we cook, we cook here.

And you and your sons do the actual cooking?
Exactly. Everybody knows the way it’s supposed to be.