It Takes a Greek Town

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

"You have to give back to people," he says. "I do feel like I have good food and good prices. They like it, but they want to see a little more."

The expansion will help the Greektown Cafe accommodate more customers year-round, Dadiotis says. More important, it will help establish a look for other businesses to emulate. Nicholas Antonopoulos, the Greek-American architect he's hired to design the new look, has drawn up similar Hellenistic designs for the facades of various buildings in the district, and Dadiotis hopes to persuade others to renovate their places, too.

"We plan to fix the facades of four buildings by October," he says. "We want something like you see on the old Greek buildings, like in the movies--with the Greek columns, to give identity, to look like a Greek Town."

In addition to the new facades, Dadiotis has been talking to entrepreneurs who are interested in investing in Greek Town; one even wanted to know if the district's eastern border could be extended to Colorado Boulevard. He's working on getting a Greek grocery to take over one of the vacant properties and wants to add a souvenir stand (Taki Souvenirs?) to his own operation so visitors can haul T-shirts and trinkets bearing the Greek Town logo to the folks back home, spreading the word.

Some people, Dadiotis acknowledges, may view his quest as self-serving. But he insists that the economic benefits he may reap from Greek Town aren't what's driving him. He talks passionately about making Colfax a clean, safe place for women and children, about the benefits to the strip and to the city as a whole, about leaving a legacy, something that will help instill pride and a sense of identity in the local Greek-American community for generations to come.

"Everybody wants to do better," he says, sitting on the patio of his restaurant sipping a mix of iced tea and lemonade. "But my vision isn't just this place. My vision is the whole Greek Town. I want to see more restaurants. I love competition."

Still, one of the most tangible accomplishments of the project to date has been a slight increase in the number of bodies wandering into the Greektown Cafe, looking for its namesake municipality. A few months ago the Regional Transportation District agreed to add Greek Town to the list of stops served by its Cultural Connection Trolley, a bus that circulates among local tourist magnets such as the U.S. Mint, Larimer Square, LoDo, Elitch's, the Cherry Creek shopping district and the Denver Museum of Natural History. Out-of-towners in search of Denver's premiere cultural attractions can now include Greek Town in their itinerary and hop off on East Colfax, right in front of the Greektown Cafe. (RTD boardmember Jack McCroskey defends the decision to include the district in the cultural trolley route as an "accommodation" of local business owners. "We didn't have to go out of our way to do it," he notes. "There was no reason not to do it.")

Dadiotis says he's had tourists from Texas, Michigan and New York step off the bus and come into his place. "They want to see the Greek Town," he says. "They ask, 'Where is it?' And I explain it to them: 'It's nothing yet. We're just starting. But be patient. We're working hard, and next year it's going to be better.'"

Pete Contos knows East Colfax the way a shepherd knows his own flock. In his expert opinion, the stretch from Grant to Downing streets falls into the category of "not so good." Ditto the stretch from Monaco to Yosemite. But from Downing to Monaco, things are looking up, he says--and Greek Town is going to make life on the strip even better.

Contos has been in business on Colfax for 35 years. He opened the legendary Satire Lounge in 1962; since that time, he's added Pete's Kitchen, Pete's Gyros Place and Pete's Ice Cream & Coffee to his culinary empire, as well as the University Park Cafe. For several years he also operated a popular Greek nightclub, the Olympic Flame, and his Gyros Place was the first restaurant to introduce Chicago-style gyros to Denver. Over the past decade, he says, the area surrounding his Colfax restaurants has changed dramatically.

"Colfax has been cleaned up," he declares. "I think it's the business owners, mostly. You never see any prostitutes on the corner outside my place. If I see them, they're gone, and Taki's the same way."

Like Dadiotis, Contos is a first-generation immigrant. Except for Taki's trademark suspenders, the two restaurateurs could practically pass for brothers: barrel-chested, laconic, with a fondness for gold chains and pinkie rings. Dadiotis has been the more visible crusader for Greek Town, but it's actually Contos who has more to gain--or lose--from the venture. In addition to the Gyros Place and the ice-cream shop, his holdings in Greek Town include the vacant lot next to the Ethiopian restaurant and a half-block of retail space that he's recently renovated.

Contos talks about building a small retail mall on the vacant lot, housing possibly a market or gift shops; he'd also like to see a Greek-style nightclub, with belly dancers and bazouki music, that would help anchor Greek Town. "You can't put a restaurant in every door," he says. "We'd like to see a lot of different businesses here."

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