Julia Petropoulos, who has skillfully recreated an authentic market-café for all lovers of Mediterranean food at her recently opened Herb and Olive Marketa in Manhasset, traces her earliest culinary inspiration to another chef named Julia.
“Since about age 5, I had a love of cooking that I picked up from watching Julia Child on TV with my grandmother Rose,” Petropoulos recalls. “I had always wanted to have my own business and owning my own restaurant was an end goal since I was young.”
Growing up in Philadelphia, Petropoulos says she started in the restaurant business by working in her parent’s restaurants and learning the ropes. When she graduated high school, Petropoulos was accepted to the Culinary Arts Institute but at her parents’ urging, opted instead for a degree in education from Drexel University. She then combined her background and education by teaching culinary arts at a high school outside of Philadelphia for five years.
“I had several students that went on to have careers in the restaurant business and I stay in touch with many of them to this day,” she says.
Herb and Olive began to take shape after Petropoulos’ husband got a lucrative job offer in Greece, where she would live for another five years. While living in Greece, Petropoulos brainstormed and did a lot of research on various products while formulating what type of restaurant she would eventually open.
When she and her husband moved back to New York, they settled in Manhasset. Two years ago, things began to fall into place when the current location, formerly the Greek tavern Mykonos, became available. Petropoulos, along with her business partner George Vatakis, agreed that the Plandome Road spot was perfect.
Herb and Olive Marketa, which opened in October, is a unique market-café concept with high ceilings, white brick, and reclaimed wood from upstate New York. The venue features a full-service specialty Mediterranean foods market in front and café in the back that sources its ingredients directly from the market.
“Everything is being cross-utilized from the oils and nuts to the fruits,” says Petropoulos, who describes her venue as “a neighborhood place where people can come to buy all their Greek products from olives, oils and fresh deli to produce, coffee, jams, pastas, and legumes.”
She also believes in sourcing as many organic products as possible, such as free-range chickens and eggs from a local farm in Lancaster, Penn.
Petropoulos created Herb and Olive’s tapas- and small-plate-focused menu, but also shares cooking duties with executive chef Michael Giannakis, whose resume boasts head chef spots with the New York Islanders and Barclay Center’s 40/40 Club in addition to Manhattan restaurants Avra and Rao’s.
The Marketa’s specialties include grilled lamb chops, shrimp, octopus, spinach pie, and loukaniko, an orange-scented Greek sausage. Also available are from-scratch desserts such as loukoumades (Greek fried dough), baklava, and assorted pastries.
Petropoulos says she is “truly blessed” to have been able to open her dream store. She is also grateful that the local community has welcomed her with open arms.
“We haven’t even advertised yet,” she says. “We’re all word-of-mouth at this point … But, so far, so good.”
Herb and Olive Marketa is located at 172 Plandome Road in Manhasset. It can be reached at 516-439-5421 or herbandolive.com