A Taste of Culture

by Marcy VelteA waitress walks by with a serving tray piled high with fries and a triple-decker turkey and bacon sandwich. A three-egg ham and cheese omelet with potatoes and toast sits on the tray’s second plate. It is placed at the table of two young girls, chatting about last night’s events.

As cutlery clinks and food is devoured, a server greets a woman with two young children standing just inside the door. “Welcome to Genesis, table for three?” she asks.

Genesis is the name of New Paltz’s latest restaurant and diner. With a name that means “to come into being, an origin, or creation,” the restaurant is a new beginning for co-owners Johnny and Jenny Gramatokos.

“I woke up one night and the name was just there,” said Johnny while taking a break from cooking and doing inventory. “It seemed to fit.”

Genesis will be the 12th restaurant Johnny and his wife have opened. The couple’s previous restaurant, Johnny G’s in Saugerties, is awaiting new management. Genesis was built and financed using the couple’s life savings of more than $1 million. This is their first restaurant built and modeled according to their specifications.

“It’s a lot of risk, but I’ve always put a lot of trust in my husband. I believe in him,” said Jenny, who has been married to Johnny for more than 25 years.

Originally from Greece, Johnny Gramatokos has 30 years of experience in the restaurant business. After coming to America in his early twenties, Gramatokos worked his way up from a dishwasher and busboy, to a waiter and cook. Eventually, he saw the chance to open his own restaurant and took it.

In his thick Grecian accent, Johnny offhandedly explains, “You know me; I never usually like to stay in a place for more than six or seven years. After a while, sometimes you have to start fresh.”

Jenny Gramatokos said they chose the quaint town of New Paltz to open their newest eatery because they always liked the area. The couple enjoyed the town’s atmosphere and its sense of community.

“New Paltz is a pretty hip place,” Jenny said, in between placing food orders and cashing out diners.

The couple’s 11 other restaurants have all had a diner-type feel, so creating the menu and setting the environment for Genesis was second nature.

“We want people to feel comfortable when they come here. We want it to be known as a family place,” said Jenny as she stepped away to welcome guests as they entered the restaurant.

With a menu full of traditional American, Italian, western and Greek food, anyone and everyone is sure to find a dish that will please their palate. Each week, Johnny plans out the specials to feature a different dish each night. Specials and dinners come with a trip to the soup and salad bar, potatoes and a vegetable.

The smells of chicken, french fries and burgers wafts from the kitchen as Johnny explains, “You know me; I try to have lots of options for lots of different people, we want everyone to be able to afford to go out to eat. I can make you food that’s more expensive or I can make you food that’s reasonable.”

The co-owners say they realize that in these hard times people still want to go out to eat and enjoy themselves, but not break their budget. They decided to open a restaurant and diner to give their customers a broader price range.

“We want customers to realize we’re in the same boat they are,” Jenny said. “We have bills to pay too, we know how it feels.”

One waitress, Agnes Planthader, has been working in restaurants owned by Johnny and Jenny for 20 years. Planthader left her job at a restaurant previously owned by the couple to work at their current establishment.

“I wouldn’t work for anyone else,” said Planthader between waiting tables and chit-chatting with customers. “They’re caring and loving people. When you work for them, you become a family.”

Waiter Jimmy Reos agreed. He has worked for the Gramatokos family for 15 years. He, too, is committed to his employers, the restaurant and the customers.

“What makes us different from other places is the good service,” Reos said. “We really care about our customers, and put them first. Not to mention the quality food.”

Reos and Planthader said their most popular dishes so far are the prime rib special, the stir-fries, the sautéed dishes and the wraps and paninis.

“The paninis are special,” Johnny said. “They are made with focaccia bread instead of panini bread; people seem to really love that.”

Genesis has its own in-house bakery and baker, Tasso Hiristopuls. Hiristopuls has known Johnny for 19 years and jumped at the opportunity to work with him again. He works at the restaurant five days a week, baking fresh cakes mounded with frosting, pies that look like the kind grandma used to make, cookies and baklava. He has been baking for 43 years.

“I was trained by professionals back in Greece, but I never went to school,” Hiristopuls said. “I don’t use fancy temperature gauges on the oven like these new guys, I stick my hand in the oven to know when the oven’s hot.”

He said baking is what makes him happy. The baker will take special orders for goods and pastries through Genesis. You name it; Hiristopuls thinks he can make it. However, the order does need to be placed a few days in advance.

Many of Hiristopuls’ baked goods will be featured on the new Sunday breakfast buffet. It will start Dec. 13 and will continue from then on.

“There is always a salad and breakfast bar at all of Johnny’s restaurants, and everybody loves it!” Planthader said.

Planthader said many costumers have told her the new and clean atmosphere of Genesis enticed them to stop in. Amanda Walsh and Danielle Dixon, third-year education majors at SUNY New Paltz, said that’s what drew them to the restaurant.

“The service was great,” Dixon said. “The prices were reasonable and my turkey sandwich was made with real turkey and not slimy deli meat.”

Both girls said they will be coming back to eat soon and spreading the word to all of their friends.

Jenny says their goal is for people to leave the place happy and full. She wants Genesis to become a recognizable town fixture that people will come back to.

“It’s like watching your favorite TV show,” exclaimed a cook on why costumers return. “Once you watch the first time, you go back to it over and over again. It’s soothing.”

Genesis Restaurant and Diner is located off of the Thruway on Route 299 and is open seven days a week, 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. For further information, call 845-255-5075.

Marcy Velte

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