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It Takes a Greek Town

The plan to revive East Colfax: belly dancers, bazouki music, baklava--and blue sidewalks.

Much of the opposition, Peros figures, was merely an expression of "jealousy" of restaurateurs Dadiotis and Contos, both prominent members of the Greek Chamber of Commerce. "I think a lot of it was, 'This thing is only for Taki and Pete Contos,'" Peros says. "Any time you do a project like this, you have the naysayers. We ignored that."

The larger and more indelicate question is not why there's a Greek Town on East Colfax but why the city has chosen to bestow its official blessing on the project--and to spend public money to make it happen, in the form of street improvements and low-interest loans to property owners interested in developing Greek Town.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are an enterprising Lebanese restaurateur in North Cherry Creek. Your place serves the best raw kibbeh this side of Beirut, and your methle (which the Greeks drown in honey and call baklava) is to die for. You have a dream, too, and that dream is to transform East Third Avenue into Little Lebanon and to rename your place the Little Lebanon Cafe. Maybe, just maybe, the city will help you make your dream come true--and maybe the Rockies will win the pennant this year.

But then, Cherry Creek is not East Colfax, and Little Lebanon is not Greek Town. Most important of all, you are not Taki Dadiotis.

When the man they call "the Mayor of Greek Town" gazes out across the concrete expanse of Colfax, he doesn't see just graffiti and weeds. He sees the future: A clean, well-lighted street lined with Greek columns and hungry tourists wandering among souvenir stands, Mediterranean groceries and specialty shops, taking in the floor show at a classy Greek nightclub, and sampling the bill of fare at a wide variety of Greek restaurants--high-end, Santorini-type fish houses, casual lamb-chop-and-gyro emporiums like the Greektown Cafe, even quick-and-easy souvlaki stands. Ask him why no other ethnic group has managed to bring such an attraction to Denver--an Asia Town, say, in the heart of the Vietnamese enclave of South Federal Boulevard--and he merely shrugs.

"Somebody has to start," he says. "Nobody likes to do the work. I started it. The motivation with me is big. The vision is big. I was taking the positive attitude. I'm looking positive."

Looking positive has taken Dadiotis a long way. A first-generation immigrant, he's been involved in the Denver restaurant business for more than thirty years, including the old Lafitte's in Larimer Square and the popular Athenian restaurant of the early 1980s, sometimes working as many as three jobs at at time to support his family. It's not unusual for him to close up his place at 2:30 in the morning and then attend a crack-of-dawn Colfax on the Hill meeting to discuss the future of the strip.

Dadiotis is reluctant to discuss his background, which includes a 1993 bankruptcy in which he claimed to have virtually no assets or income; court records indicate that two months after the bankruptcy was discharged, he purchased a new Lexus worth $63,000. Dadiotis says the filing was a matter of principle, stemming from a dispute with a single creditor whom he refused to pay. As far as he's concerned, it's all so much ancient history, like the Peloponnesian War; his attention is focused on the glory that will be Greek Town.

Dadiotis says he knew the area around East High School had promise when he took over the Golden Bell six years ago. He enlisted Contos in his cause, and the two of them, with the aid of the Greek Chamber of Commerce, lobbied Denver City Council members Ed Thomas and Hiawatha Davis, who soon warmed to the idea. In 1994 the council unanimously passed a resolution recognizing Greek Town as Denver's first official ethnic enclave, but it wasn't until earlier this year that the district was officially dedicated, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony presided over by Mayor Wellington Webb. (The Greek community has been generally supportive of Webb's administration, particularly during the 1995 mayoral race, in which Contos was a prominent donor; in addition, Jim Dadiotis, Taki's son, works as a neighborhood coordinator in the city's Planning and Community Development Office.)

To date the city's investment in Greek Town has been quite modest--a $200,000 community-development block grant to fund the street improvements in front of Dadiotis's and Contos's restaurants. Bill Lysaught, deputy director of the Mayor's Office of Economic Development, likens the project to other streetscaping the city has done on Santa Fe Drive or in the Highland Square development in northwest Denver to help property owners who are seeking to revitalize aging business districts.

"These are areas we've concluded that, without the city playing a catalyst role, it's unlikely that things are going to happen," Lysaught explains. "In most cases, we've been pretty successful."

For all his tireless campaigning, Dadiotis doesn't have much to show tourists yet: a few signs and benches, the soon-to-be-blue sidewalk. But there's more coming, he vows--and much of it will be coming out of his own pocket and those of other property owners. In a few weeks he will begin renovation of his restaurant, closing off the sidewalk patio and putting up a new facade girded by majestic Corinthian columns; the columns alone cost several hundred dollars apiece, and Dadiotis wants fourteen of them. It won't be the Parthenon, exactly, but it will show his customers and his neighbors just how serious he is about Greek Town.

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