“In Greece, every village has a cafeneon, where all the locals gather to eat. A day doesn’t go by without going there.”
Walking into Café Neon, we were transported to a Greek café right by the Mediterranean sea. With brightly patterned walls, music beating, and the fresh smell of coffee, we felt far away. It didn’t feel like a Tuesday, or the beginning of a work week. It felt like we were in a small town in Greece – a place full of life and culture. We sat down with Greek owner Niki Tsourounakis at Café Neon, to hear her story and learn about her restaurant-catering business.
Named after the Greek traditional meeting spot, “cafeneon”, Niki wanted to bring a piece of Mediterranean culture to Toronto. “In Greece, every village has a cafeneon, where all the locals gather to eat. A day doesn’t go by without going there”, mentions Niki. Cafeneons bring people together over food – which at Platterz, we know a little something about. “I loved the feeling that they exuded. It was a local spot, and you met your relatives and friends, and caught up on the day’s events” Niki explains. Upon opening her restaurants and catering business, Niki wanted to bring this exact feeling to Café Neon and its cocktail counterpart, Bar Neon.
Being born into three family restaurants, Niki always felt at home in the kitchen. “I just had it in me”, she says. “I learned so much being in the restaurants. I learned how to cook by watching the chefs in the kitchen. I still have visions of how they prepared things to this day.”
“This is what I should be doing. It’s my passion.”
Despite her family history in the restaurant industry, Niki wanted to do something different. “I thought I wanted to leave the restaurant industry to challenge myself more. I went to school for forensic psychology. I wanted to be a criminal profiler.” After going through schooling for forensic psychology, Niki purchased a property and rented it out to a budding chef. “Watching him cook re-inspired me, and brought it back out of me. I thought to myself, what am I doing? This is what I should be doing. It’s my passion.” Stemming from this realization, Niki started participating in catering events, cooking out of her small apartment.
“I just dreamt it. I thought, this is going to be the place, this is perfect.”
Keeping busy with small-scale catering events, Niki was approached to do an office launch party for 300 people. Seemingly an ambitious undertaking, Niki was ready for the challenge. “I was cooking out of my tiny loft, but I never say no to anything.” Inspired by the neighbourhood of the event, she ended up finding a vacant space online, which would become Café Neon. “I just dreamt it. I thought, this is going to be the place, this is perfect.” Café Neon opened shortly thereafter in 2011, and just six months later, Niki opened Bar Neon. She now operates the business with her partner Katy Chan, who is a Stratford trained chef.
“We like to stick to simple ingredients, and letting them shine. Less is more.”
With a healthy Mediterranean fusion menu, Café Neon’s food is made from scratch. “One of our biggest mantras is that we don’t use anything that’s processed and we use mostly organic ingredients. We make everything.” Niki is proud of the ingredients she and her team uses, and even imports her family’s olive oil from Greece. “It tastes like liquid-gold.” She mentions how eating healthy is important to her, and how this is incorporated into her catering. “We like to stick to simple ingredients and let them shine. Less is more.”
Café Neon signed on with Platterz about a year ago. On working with Platterz, Niki says “it feels like having an extra team member.” We work with our vendors daily to make sure that they feel like they are a part of our family, so it was extra exciting to hear Niki say that she feels like we are a part of her team.
In terms of opportunity, Niki reflected on how her business has recently evolved. “We’re catering to people we would’ve never approached. We don’t really advertise that we cater, and we don’t really have to because of Platterz. They’ve opened a lot of avenues for us, and are allowing us to grow at a much faster pace.”
After hearing about Niki, her Greek heritage, and how the kitchen is Niki’s natural habitat, our admiration for Café Neon instantly grew. This is why we love meeting our vendors – their stories and the care they put into their food is truly inspiring. We felt very at home during our time at Café Neon, and love the way Niki’s passion for food comes through in her catering. If your team is in need of some healthy comfort food, Cafe Neon has got you covered! Take a look at their menu on Platterz and be sure to let us know what you think!