SRQ Magazine | September 2022
Eddie Yzeiri of Apollonia Grill.
Grilling up a storm of culinary delights for University Park patrons for nearly a decade with its fresh Mediterranean cuisine, Apollonia Grill in the Cooper Creek area is the pride of the Yzeiri family. “Apollonia was opened with a vision to bring authentic Greek Mediterranean food to our area. We wanted to offer high-quality recipes but in an approachable and friendly setting,” says Eddie Yzeiri, Apollonia’s manager, who has worked in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years. “Cooking Greek and Mediterranean food is familiar to me because it’s the food I grew up with. A lot of our recipes are family recipes or dishes that have evolved and improved over time.” Eddie Yzeiri and his family also owned El Greco Café on Main Street in downtown Sarasota before launching the Apollonia locale in The Shoppes at UTC.
Running a restaurant has always been a collaborative effort. “My mother and father opened the restaurant every morning—making the soups, sauces and getting the restaurant started. When we got in there, the kitchen was ready for cooking and the dining room was ready for guests to come in,” Eddie Yzeiri says. “I worked in the kitchen and my brother worked in the dining room. Both of our wives played a key role in welcoming guests and ensuring that they had a positive experience.” Today, at Apollonia, those roles have evolved, especially since the start of the pandemic. “When restaurants shut down during COVID, it was a very scary time. Our entire family depended on the success of the restaurant; there was no other income,” Eddie Yzeiri says. “But we made it through, being there for each other and staying strong. Our team has grown but we are still involved in the day-to-day operations.” As a follow-up to the 2013 opening of the first Apollonia, the Yzeiris started a second location in The Landings in 2019.
The Apollonia menu, at both locales, is rich with beloved items. “Our Lamb Shank Osso Bucco (braised leg of lamb with vegetables, herbs and red wine) is a dish that is quite labor-intensive to make and the end result is this flavorful, super tender and delicious shank that is memorable,” Eddie Yzeiri says. “The Saganaki Cheese is always a guest favorite—not only very tasty but it comes with a show by lighting it on fire in front of guests.” Lamb chops, kebabs, branzino, lobster pasta and moussaka are also among the steadfast staples. But there’s always more to come.
“We’re very excited for the future. We’re planning to do a renovation in the restaurant at The Shoppes at UTC,” Eddie Yzeiri says. “Along with that, we intend on revamping our menus, and introducing some new and exciting dishes. We’re always continuing to improve.”
Poonam Maini has walked a triumphant path to where she is now—from growing up in a small village in India to pioneering the successful Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine on Cooper Creek Boulevard. Maini initially launched Tandoor on Clark Road in 2001 before relocating to The Shoppes at UTC in 2013, and the restaurant will be moving to an expanded space this fall. But doing all this—on her own—has not been an easy endeavor. “My motivation to work hard was providing a life for my children,” Maini says.
Maini grew up in a village called Garhdiwala in India and entered an arranged marriage when she was in her teens (she even gave a TED talk about her experience a few years ago in New York). She came to the United States in 1989 and eventually settled in Florida, but started Tandoor after her divorce. Maini had three children to support (Milen, now 34; Shamini, now 31; and Shubi, now 24), and her daughters worked with her as servers and hosts in the flagship location. Now her son, Shubi, co-runs Tandoor with his mother.
This family culinary tradition has a lengthy history. “I grew up eating the types of items I serve now at Tandoor. My dad was a very passionate cook—not a professional cook but he loved cooking,” Maini says. “I love cooking. As a young girl, when I had to pick a chore,
I picked cooking. I just loved being around my dad in the kitchen.” Butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, lamb rogan josh, tandoori chicken and spicy biryani—all dishes with familial roots—are some of Tandoor’s cherished specialties.
And Maini is as involved in the restaurant industry as she is in the nonprofit sphere.
She founded the Share Care Global organization in 2017—an initiative that supplies healthy food and educational opportunities to poor people in her home village in India (especially women and children). The organization also helps teach women how to become entrepreneurs. Maini hopes to one day open a hospital and orphanage in the village, too.
“Every meal we sell at Tandoor, it provides a meal to someone in our food shelter; that’s about 400 meals a day,” Maini says. “Before I die, even if there are five people who say ‘Poonam helped change our lives,’ that gives me purpose. I work very hard every day because I know how many people depend on Tandoor—not just my 20 team members but also the people we help in India. That inspires me to work harder. It brings me peace and makes me happy.”
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