Good Lo­cal

Pub­lic de­mand has in­spired the re­launch of a Napier din­ing in­sti­tu­tion.

Good - - CONTENTS - Words Jes Mag­ill Greek Na­tional Café; 112 Emer­son Street, Napier; 06 833 6069; greek­na­tion­al­cafe.nz

Get­ting cul­tural at Greek Na­tional Café, Napier

When the Pax­i­nos fam­ily em­i­grated to Napier, New Zealand from the is­land of Ithaca in Greece nearly a cen­tury ago, they knew the towns­folk wouldn’t go for Greek food. So, in 1928 they opened the Na­tional Café with a com­mit­ment to serv­ing the best fish, steak, prawn cock­tails and chips they pos­si­bly could. Two gen­er­a­tions of the Pax­i­nos fam­ily (now Paxie), did ex­actly that for 88 years and their pub­lic loved them for it. Fast-for­ward to to­day, and the re­launched Greek Na­tional Café is fi­nally serv­ing the food of its her­itage, mak­ing it New Zealand’s old­est fam­ily-run restau­rant.

Cousins Lance Paxie and Deb­bie Hooper, third gen­er­a­tion restau­ra­teurs, have made the ul­ti­mate tribute to their fa­thers Bill and Alec who ran the café for 50 years.

And to think the Greek Na­tional Café might never have opened. When Bill and Alec called time on the café in 2016 (sadly Bill passed away in 2017), they didn’t want their chil­dren tak­ing over the busi­ness – “too much hard work,” they said. Deb­bie bought the build­ing from her father, in­tend­ing to rent it out.

But the pub­lic had other ideas – loyal fans couldn’t com­pre­hend their Na­tional Café clos­ing and kept up a pres­sured cam­paign.

It was then that Deb­bie and Lance, both born with the hospo gene, re­alised they could cre­ate some­thing spe­cial.

Hav­ing helped in the café when he was 10, Lance is now its hos­pi­tal­ity man­ager. Deb­bie, a for­mer teacher, grew up in the restau­rant too.

“Early on I learned how to use in­gre­di­ents to cre­ate the best flavour – I’ve spent a lot of time per­fect­ing dishes.” Cook­ing Greek food was new to chef Glen Verner, so while Deb­bie was the gate­keeper of taste, it has been a real team ef­fort. “Glen’s played a mas­sive role in bring­ing the flavours and taste to scale,” says Lance. Deb­bie’s hus­band, Kim, a for­mer global en­gi­neer for a large food busi­ness, de­signed the kitchen and is also the café’s “prob­lem solver”. Meze dishes set the scene for a flavour­ful jour­ney. Head­ing into the mains, the hero is a slow-cooked Lamb Kleft­iko, mar­i­nated in oregano and gar­lic and served with crispy lemon pota­toes and horta (greens). Fore­fa­thers haven’t been for­got­ten with lov­ing adap­ta­tions Alec’s Porter­house Wakanui Blue and Buddy’s Fish & Chips.

When a dep­u­ta­tion of rel­a­tives who had grown up on Ithaca dined at the café, pro­claim­ing the food “tastes just like back home,” it was the ul­ti­mate af­fir­ma­tion for this new gen­er­a­tion.

Bronze sculp­ture “Mem­o­ries of Greece” out­side the restau­rant. Left: The Art Deco build­ing’s in­te­rior, re­vamped in the ‘ 60s, is still in­tact to­day.

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