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It’s Callie’s Turn: Harrisburg restaurant veteran opens her own eatery, Deco Grab & Go

Callie Alvanitakis

After 20 years of working at other popular Harrisburg eateries, Callie Alvanitakis has found her sweet spot.

She has crafted a sweet menu featuring her star-attraction, “cinnie buns,” and a safe, pandemic-friendly style of service, catering to hungry diners who want to grab fast, delicious, nutritious food and go.

But her specialties are not limited to sweets. Her new café, Deco Grab & Go, also features fresh salads, homemade soups, sandwiches, smoothies, whole-grain bowls and much more, just across the street from the state Capitol.

The café’s name reflects her love for the glamour of the late 1920s and the then-ground-breaking decor of the modernist Payne-Shoemaker building at 3rd and Pine streets, where she has opened her doors. The site had been home to a gluten-free bakery, but has been vacant for several years, lying in wait for her artistic taste.

“Being that I’m an art nerd, I want to reflect that vision in my space,” she said.

Local artists are featured on the walls, and the venue’s clean lines complement the clean and lean food.

Deco Grab & Go debuted last month, and Alvanitakis readily acknowledges that it’s not easy opening a new business when the streets of downtown Harrisburg are eerily quiet and COVID-19 restrictions on seating, cleaning, masking and spacing still weigh heavily on restaurants. She has adapted to the times, with the experience and personality to make it a success.

She already knows the neighborhood well. Her resume includes stints at several downtown spots, including Fresa Bistro, Café Fresco and Carly’s. In fact, Carly’s was her first manager’s job, and she is pleased to report that they still use some of her menus, which include her trademark basil mojito. She said that she became a human “sponge for all that time,” absorbing knowledge about the industry and the market, before deciding, “It’s my turn.”

She said that she saw a void in the downtown’s breakfast and lunch offerings when Bagel Lovers in Strawberry Square closed, as did the Flamingo Café.

Her “staple” is her fragrant, warm cinnamon buns. She also serves bagels and bagel “sammies,” with bacon, egg and cheese, Greek, mushroom and ham and Swiss choices. All are complemented by the local favorite of caffeine-seekers, Elementary Coffee.

Authentic Greek influences show on numerous menu items, reflecting her heritage. She makes a breakfast sandwich featuring feta cheese and an olive spread, a Greek salad and grain bowls with a Mediterranean influence. She makes her own hummus, as well.

Her degree in fine art guides her décor. Deco’s interior currently features artwork by local artist Michele Hernandez.

“I didn’t choose this business—this business chose me,” Alvanatikis said.  “It’s in my blood. I’m a Greek.”

And like the ancient Greeks, she is not daunted by tragedy.

“It’s a crazy time to open a restaurant, but I view it as an opportunity right now,” she said.

Alvanitakis has adapted to the pandemic by being “lean and streamlined.” She cross-utilizes as many ingredients as possible, serving food that is super-lean and super-fast.

“It’s healthy, fast, nutritious—things people want,” she said.

She keeps contact with patrons to a minimum.

“I’m very safe when it comes to COVID, but people still need to eat,” she said.

In the future, she may attempt to offer a catering menu and take on larger-scale events.

For new fans and old friends, Alvanitakis is cooking up plans to offer dinner meal kits, so that time-crunched city residents and commuters can pick up everything they need to go home and serve a fast, fresh dinner to their families. She is imagining such items as vegetable lasagna for four to six people. Customers can just pop it in the oven, and dinner is served.

“I realize many people are working two jobs,” she said. “I want to provide options for people.”

There will be some indoor seating, but most will remain takeout post-pandemic, she said. She does expect to have some outdoor tables when the sun and warmer temperatures make a comeback.

Until then, it’s happily soup time at Deco Grab & Go.

“It’s nourishing, warm, and the way I make soup, it’s like a meal,” she said. “It’s rich and hearty.”

She offers such favorites as chicken and broccoli, lemon chicken with spinach and chicken corn soup. Her plan is to offer two homemade soups a day.

“That is where I shine,” she said.

Deco Grab & Go is located at 240 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit their Facebook page.

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