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Chef’s Dish: The Naughty Greek

Chef Angelo Giovanis’ nostalgia for authentic Greek food prompted him to open The Naughty Greek.

After growing up in family restaurant, Chef Angelo Giovanis never imagined opening a restaurant, let alone in Minnesota.

His family restaurant in the small, preserved town of Monemvasia, Greece, has been in the family now for 40 years. Its name, To Kanoni,  translates as "the cannon" in English because of its proximity to an actual cannon. Giovanis’ childhood memories consisted of cooking fried diples with his grandmother in his extended family’s kitchen.

“Food was never a topic of conversation because my grandmother would take care of food. We would walk into her apartment and sit down and eat,” says Giovanis.

He left Greece after graduating from high school “and I told myself I would never open a restaurant,” Giovanis says. He attended university in Belgium, where he lived for 10 years, pursuing a career in business and building friendships in the culinary world. While he had no interest in pursuing the industry at the time, he did enjoy indulging in the best wine and food in Belgium. 

He married his wife, Kristen, a Minnesotan, in Belgium, and the couple decided to make the move to Minnesota, a place Giovanis had only visited in the summer. “I did not even know what Minnesota was, let alone even fathom the idea to live here,” Giovanis says. 

He earned a master’s in business from the University of St. Thomas, but discovered he couldn’t live without great Greek food for long. “It had been culminating in my mind for 10 years,” Giovanis says of The Naughty Greek, named for his desire to break rules while making exceptional Greek street food. For 10 years, he went back and forth on the decision to open the restaurant.

Now with two locations in St. Paul, Giovanis is on a mission to “reintroduce and reeducate people” to Greek food, starting with the basics of all fresh meat and tzatziki sauce made with Greek yogurt, housed in a casual and accessible space.

“People were saying there’s a reason people aren’t eating pork gyros in Minnesota. I thought, ‘I can’t be that crazy, I love it,’” says Giovanis. Diners apparently agree, and at this point Giovanis is cooking seven to eight spits of meat a day.

“I’m a big believer in living your life as engaged as you can,” Giovanis says, and a lot has changed for him in the last 10 years. Minnesota has been more on-the-map than ever with its James Beard-nominated chefs and restaurants, and Giovanis believes people are also more traveled and exposed to new foods.

For newcomers to Greek cuisine, Giovanis recommends trying the gyro, something he wasn’t able to find authentically made in the states. 

“I see people getting it over and over again,” says Giovanis. “I think people overdo it and overcomplicate a really good meat.” Once you’ve tried the gyros, he urges people to move on to the lamb chops. 

He’s hoping to eventually open a more formal sit-down restaurant, but in the meantime, Giovanis appreciates the response to The Naughty Greek, where he recently held a Greek Easter at his new location.

“I’ve never worked harder in my life, I’m not someone who shies away,” Giovanis says. “This is what it takes, that kind of effort, work and energy. What I get back is the people who are coming in and the people who come in and talk.” 

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