In the 1970s, when Irvine was a town of 50,000 people mostly clustered in newly built “villages” close to UCI, it was a big deal when a new restaurant opened. The arrival of Bob’s Big Boy on Campus Drive — now long gone — was cause for real celebration back then.
In those days, “diversity” and “ethnic” eateries were hard to find in Irvine. But, all that has changed now. Today, with a population of 275,000, Irvine has achieved a remarkable mix of racial, ethnic and cultural diversity that has given rise to scores of restaurants and small eateries reflective of the City’s burgeoning population. Whatever the cuisine — Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Persian, Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Cuban, French — you can find it in Irvine.
Seriously under-represented, however, has been Greek cuisine, according to Yianni and Stefano Kosmides. The two brothers recently opened APOLA, a new Greek restaurant located on the corner of Von Karman and Barranca, next to Starbucks in the Walmart shopping center. APOLA, says Yianni, offers a fast-casual dining experience that stresses “authentic” Greek food at reasonable prices.
The Kosmides brothers should know. Born in the United States, Yianni and Stefano were raised in Greece for most of their childhood years, later returning to the U.S. and Southern California where they both earned university degrees, including masters degrees from USC in business management. Now in their 30s, the two are owners of several restaurants in Southern California, but those restaurants feature American cuisine from top to bottom. The brothers see APOLA as their chance to market authentic Greek cuisine in Irvine, a sophisticated multi-cultural community.
“Authenticity is what makes this Greek restaurant special.” says Yianni. He and Stefano rely on special New York suppliers for their gyro meats and imported Greek ingredients — feta cheese, Greek olive oil, even salt that comes from Greek salt lakes. Specialists are flown in from Greece to train the APOLA staff in cutting the gyro meats and preparing the gyros.
Imported Greek beer and wines are served. Also available are Greek chocolate bars, and traditional Greek baklava (a puff pastry made with clover honey and walnuts). Especially appetizing is the array of sauces and spreads made from family recipes developed over the years. Interestingly, the menu also lists mustard and ketchup, but Yianni humorously admits that these are made by the Heinz family, with no known connection to Greece at all.
More than just another restaurant, Yianni and Stefano want people to see APOLA as an integral part of Irvine and the larger Orange County community. The brothers are proud to let folks know that they sponsor high school sports teams and, just recently, donated 40 percent of their Christmas Eve sales to Children’s Hospital of Orange County. “Giving back is a big part of what we do,” says Yianni.
APOLA is advertised as a Greek Gyro Grill, with “Gyro Done Right.” So, what does the name “APOLA” mean? According to Yianni, it means “The Works” — your gyro with everything on it. APOLA is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner — seven days a week. The breakfasts are mostly traditional American offerings with generous portions, but also with a choice of accompanying gyro meats — seasoned chicken, pork, or a blend of beef and lamb — that give omelettes and breakfast burritos a very special Greek influence.