My son attends the Secret Garden Preschool in Capitol Hill. One of the parents we’ve become friendly with mentioned there was a new restaurant in the neighborhood. When she told me it was Greek I was intrigued because until very recently there was no good Greek food in Seattle. Last Wednesday, after I picked up Jonah from preschool, I took him to lunch at Vios Cafe & Marketplace.
Sometimes, you can tell just by looking in a restaurant’s window whether or not it will be good. This was the case with Vios, whose name means “life” in Greek. The significance of the name will become evident later in this story. Looking inside, I could see wooden tables and chairs and an upfront kitchen with a large bulletin board hanging from the ceiling which listed the menu. The lunch menu included many Greek sandwiches like souvlaki, lamb burger, salads like octopus with chickpeas and peppers, and entrees like grilled fatty tuna belly. The desserts too looked tantalizing: upside down plum cake, rice pudding and brownie with vanilla ice cream.
There was also a refrigerated foods section devoted to fresh Greek foods like yoghurt, pita, feta, and cured meats. There is also a wine section and library of books about Greece. Everything looked warm, informal and scrumptious.
After entering, we were even more impressed. The food was fresh, intensely flavorful and of the highest quality. I ordered a souvlaki and the lamb was tender and grilled to perfection. The pita was warm, fluffy and luscious, not like the thin cardboard versions sold in this and most other American cities. Jonah looked up at a photo on the wall. It pictured a beautiful young boy with straight sandy-colored hair. Jonah said to me: “Dat Jonah?” And indeed it did look like him. I told him, no, that wasn’t him but that it did look very much like him.
I noticed a man in a white apron walking around the restaurant so I went over to him and asked if he was the owner. He was. His name was Thomas Soukakos and he told an amazing story of unutterable tragedy framed by a man’s devotion to food, family and community.
Thomas & Alexander Soukakos (credit: Seattle Post Intelligencer)
He told me that he’d owned El Greco, an earlier Greek restaurant on Capitol Hill which had closed a few years ago. As we were talking I noticed a large children’s play area in a corner of the restaurant. As a restaurant-goer I noted how unusual and perhaps odd this arrangement was. But as a father, I was also grateful that a restauranteur would recognize and affirm the needs of neighborhood children and their parents who were his customers. Later, after eating Jonah and I used the restroom. I was amazed to see a luxury model changing table. Not one of your small fold up models. This one had its own countertop as big as the entire sink with a large changing table.
While talking with Thomas, I learned that he’d met his wife, Carol, while working at El Greco. They’d married and had a son, Alexander (whose portrait was the one we saw on the wall). But Carol suffered from the terrible scourge of post partem depression. She had a severe form of the illness and despite all the medical care and close attention of family and friends she took her life. The Seattle Post Intelligencer story I linked to above, The Ones She Left Behind, will break your heart with the details of a vital and creative woman’s life destroyed by this terrible illness. For more photos of Thomas and Alexander, see the photo gallery accompanying the article.
Thomas took some time off to raise his son. When he decided it was the right time to go back to work, he thought he’d try to create a restaurant that was more than just a purveyor of great food. What’s great about Vios is that if you look over everything in the place you’ll see the deliberate and thoughtful process that went into creating the space from the play area to the changing table to the bold Mediterranean colors of the interior. Thomas’ vision is to make his place into a social and communal gathering place. As soon as his food service is running smoothly, he’d like to offer to the community a meeting place for a single father support group and a post partem depressions support group among others.
I think Vios is a fine restaurant. But even more I appreciate Thomas’ vision of making a contribution to the mental health and well-being of his neighborhood and community. More power and success to him.
Vios Cafe & Marketplace
903 19th Avenue E
Seattle, WA 98122
206 329 3236
Minor correction: El Greco is still going strong.