From markets to menus: the journey of Levendis

r-l_Levendis owner Kosta Rotos with staff

From humble beginnings as a (wildly popular) souvlaki stall holder at Miami Marketta, to opening his own Greek restaurant, Kosta Rotos has had a food journey and a half. We caught up with the amiable restaurateur amid a feast of smoky meat and ice cold wine at Levendis, in Surfers Paradise.

I know you still have your food stand at Marketta, but how have you found the transition from market stall to a bricks and mortar restaurant? 

It’s definitely been a unique challenge. I’ve had to expand my food offering, provide a complementary drinks offering to my menu (I don’t think just offering everyone Ouzo and a Mythos with each meal is enough) and learn the ins and outs of running a restaurant seven-days a week, as opposed to a three-night a week food stall. You also get quite passionate about making sure your space has the right look and feel to make sure that it reflects the food and your personality so I never thought I would spend so much time thinking about colour choices for seats and tiles! It’s definitely been a learning experience, but one I’ve loved every minute of.

The great thing about locations such as Marketta and my time spent there is that it provides you the opportunity to decide if the restaurant trade is for you. Marketta provided me the time to try new things, learn all about food preparation and it really ignited my passion for the restaurant game. My time there was effectively my apprenticeship and it’s a great preparation for running your own restaurant. Levendis wouldn’t be possible without my time at Marketta and it’s made me realise how much I love food and talking everyday with customers about my Greek-Cypriot heritage and sharing my family’s story.

How is your customer base different? 

Being in Surfers Paradise the tourist component is significantly larger. I also would say that the corporate base is also quite large due to the amount of companies based in the precinct, so I’m definitely catering to that business crowd. It’s been great as I get to showcase what I am passionate about to a whole new crowd.

However I’ve had customers follow me from Marketta to try Levendis out. It’s quite good seeing them as I’ve been serving some of them for four-years now so it’s great to have that loyalty and it also shows that Gold Coasters are hungry for proper souvlaki’s and Greek food.

How is the menu different? 

Being in a restaurant has allowed me to expand the menu to include Greek classics, not just the good old souvlaki. I love being able to serve freshly made pita and Greek dips like taramasalata, freshly caught and lightly fried calamari, Greek-Cypriot meatballs and of course charcoal lamb and chicken. And I love the opportunity to serve desserts like Greek doughnuts as they were my favourite thing growing-up.

Food-wise I was inspired by Greek Mezze, atmosphere-wise I wanted to nail the feel of a true Spanish Tapas bar. Food designed to share with friends over a bottle of wine.

Opening Levendis has allowed me to really tap into my roots and memories of the dinners my family made, which brought us together and the food we love. That’s definitely something I couldn’t do at Marketta.

I’m sure you’ve learned a lot of lessons on the way. Tell me about some of them?  

Research, research and more research. Opening a restaurant is one of the most challenging things you can embark on. Before going down this path I’d advise everyone to work in a restaurant before opening your own, find the location that’s right for you and your product, learn all about foot-traffic, rent, wages and overheads and understand what it means for your bottom line and importantly get a feel for your potential clients by researching who actually lives/works in the precinct you’ve chosen so you can get your food offering and price-point right.

So now people can find you at Marketta and in the middle of Surfers Paradise. Any cool plans for the future? 

Right now I am happy at Levendis. It was an incredible summer to open the restaurant in and the team at Chevron Renaissance really got behind my vision from the start and we worked together to nail the atmosphere of the restaurant. For the future I think I will be looking to share my vision of it.

Any advice for other restaurateurs who want to make that transition?

I would definitely say that open a market-stall first if there is an opportunity for you to do so. It is honestly the best preparation you can have and allows you to fine-tune your offering before committing to a restaurant. You will know after three-months if food it what you want to do and it gives you the ultimate opportunity to find out if what you are doing is right (you know when there is no line-up to your stall).

What’s your favourite items on the Levendis menu?

Ha, I’m being a stereotypical Greek here but it has to be the slow-cooked lamb shoulder, it is an absolute ripper and it’s what my family order when they come in for lunch or dinner.

Levendis sits in the Chevron Renaissaince along Surfers Paradise Boulevard. You can check out their website at levendissouvlaki.com

Our personal favourites were (of course) the smoky, juicy chicken and lamb plate, and the perfectly grilled haloumi. The soft bread is pretty special too. We dined as guests of Levendis.

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