MANATEE -- Anyone driving past the ex-Kentucky Fried Chicken building on Cortez Road may wonder what's coming with the new blue-and-white paint job.
The building's makeover is part of Haralambos "Bobby" Stamatopoulos' plan to transform the former fast-food restaurant into an authentic Greek lunch-and-dinner cafe called "Ellas." Ellas is a word used by Greeks for their country; Greece is the English word for the country.
Stamatopoulos, 53, moved to Bradenton from Detroit after years of owning and operating restaurants and diners in Michigan. The move to Florida was supposed to be for Stamatopoulos to relax, spend time on his boat and enjoy the sunshine.
Last June, Stamatopoulos and his family opened a Greek import market, Olive Market, in the Red Barn Flea Market. And every time he drove past the long-vacant building at 8004 Cortez Road W., he couldn't help but dream of the homestyle Greek restaurant he's always hoped to open.
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He's signed a 10-year lease for the location.
"My blood pushed me to open another restaurant," Stamatopoulos told the Herald.
He lived in Christianoupolis, Greece, until 1987, when he moved to Detroit with his wife Fay. Growing up in his home village, where he says 1,000 tons of olive oil are produced each year, Stamatopoulos learned to love cooking and the culinary world. His love for 100 percent extra virgin olive oil is unparalleled.
"If you eat real olive oil every day, you will see your life differently -- I guarantee," Stamatopoulos said.
Fast food can give people indigestion and heartburn. He wants his food to have the opposite effect: "Food should make you feel good," he said.
Although his new restaurant has a drive-thru he plans to use, Stamatopoulos is adamant it won't be like a typical fast-food location. He plans to open by June.
"I had 25 to 30 restaurants all my life and this one will be authentic Greek," Stamatopoulos said. "Like I ate at home all of my life."
His past restaurants had Italian food or American cuisine with some Greek fare. When he moved to the United States in 1987, he started out washing dishes in a Detroit restaurant before opening his first restaurant years later.
Though he shies from the fast-food terminology, he still wants to serve food in a timely manner. To do so, he'll arrive a few hours before opening each day to prepare food. Some dishes will be pre-prepared but "with no MSG and no preservatives," and offered on a steam table. He plans to make other dishes such as gyros and chicken kebab to order, along with authentic dishes and flavors such as spanakopita, stuffed grape leaves, tzatziki, baklava and rice pudding.
Other restaurants typically don't use high-quality ingredients imported straight from Greece because of their price point, Stamatopoulos said. But because of Olive Market, he has the chance to use real Greek ingredients.
Customers can expect to pay $5 to $10 for a meal at Ellas. If he receives approval for Manatee County, he wants to put a picnic table or two in front of the restaurant for outside dining. And Ellas will offer Greek beer and wine once Stamatopoulos obtains the correct license.
Vaso Rekkas owns of the Greek market at 7604 Cortez Road W., just down the road from Stamatopoulos' restaurant. She doesn't see Ellas as competition; she's thrilled to have a Greek place to dine in her neighborhood. Rekkas makes Greek salad and a few other dishes at the market, but she's looking forward to choosing from a full Greek menu.
"We all need a Greek restaurant here and I'm very happy they will open," Rekkas said. "Many people have asked me about a Greek restaurant. I'm very excited."
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter @jayohday.