The story of Mykonos Restaurant in Smithtown is not simply about standout Greek cuisine. It’s also a quintessential tale of an immigrant coming to the U.S. in search of a better life.
Nick Neophytou, the owner and head chef of Mykonos, didn’t have cooking in mind as a career when he first came to the U.S. from Cyprus in 1985. He had hoped to study at Hofstra University, but that plan would not come to fruition because he didn’t have the tuition money.
“When I first came here [to the U.S.], I didn’t know about cooking,” Neophytou says. “In Greece, I was an electrician and I also worked with a shipping company. But the shipping company job was very hard.”
In need of work, Neophytou, who came to America with little more than $30 in his pocket, says he sought out Greek-owned businesses, and Long Island diners were a logical choice.
He began his restaurant career at the Peter Pan Diner in Bay Shore as a busboy. And, after only about six months, the owner saw his strong work ethic and asked him to get some experience in the kitchen.
“I began slowly making diner staples like burgers and wraps,” he recalls.
It turned out the kitchen was Neophytou’s forte and he would become the Peter Pan’s head cook for the next nine years. From there, he went to the California Diner in Patchogue, also as a cook. He would also cook in two more now-defunct diners — the Empress Diner in East Meadow and The Syosset Diner — before realizing his American dream of opening his own business.
Mykonos Restaurant opened In Smithtown in 1993 after Neophytou purchased the small but struggling eatery from another Greek immigrant.
“One of my meat suppliers had told me of this place that wasn’t doing well and I decided to go see it,” he recalls. “I ended up borrowing money from relatives and bought the place for $60,000.”
Neophytou recalls that the early days of his restaurant were tough times.
“I had just bought a house in East Islip and my wife was pregnant,” he says. “Seven days per week, I was doing everything…from cooking to waiting on and clearing tables. It wasn’t easy.”
However, following several years of struggles and numerous renovations, the restaurant has been slowly and steadily increasing its business and building a loyal customer base.
He now employs six people working in the kitchen as well as a hostess and waitresses.
“My customers really enjoy my homemade food that is all made from scratch daily,” he says, adding that he sources his ingredients from various suppliers from across Long Island.
Some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes include gyros, souvlaki, spinach pie, Greek chicken, fresh octopus, and lamb chops, as well as homemade desserts including baklava and rice pudding.
Reflecting on his journey from Cyprus to the U.S., Neophytou, now 56, stresses the importance of having the support of his wife, Linda, whom he met early on while working at Peter Pan Diner.
“I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without my wife,” he says. “She kept me going even when I felt like giving up.”
Mykonos Restaurant is located at 45 Route 111 in Smithtown. It can be reached at 631-979-2000 or mykonossmithtown.com