Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Mr. G Journeys Home: After a lifetime as a restaurateur, Georgio Giannaris shares his native cuisine.

Screenshot 2014-09-30 00.31.52Georgio Giannaris has always loved the bar and restaurant business; you could say it’s in his blood. His father, who came to the United States from Greece, ran a bar and restaurant in York. So Georgio, or Mr. G., as he is fondly known around town, grew up in the industry.

No stranger to hard work, he attended college while working full time as a bar manager and disc jockey for a Greek couple until his life took a fortuitous turn, and he was approached by a local entrepreneur.

“He was a Greek guy, too, and, when he approached me, he said, ‘I’m thinking of opening up a place and if you work for me, I’ll make you a partner,’” Giannaris said. And that’s the short story of how he began taking charge of his own destiny as part owner and general manager of the Pink Panther in York.

“People came to the Pink Panther from Baltimore and all over; it was popular, but the life expectancy of any night club is around four to five years,” he said. “After that, we shut it down and opened up as the Broadway Café sports bar. We made even more noise with that place with pool, foosball, karaoke, disc jockeys, contests, big screens, sponsoring teams, all that sort of stuff.”

That business ended when the lease ran out.

“It was too expensive to buy the building, and so we let Hooters have the place,” he said.

Afterwards, Giannaris worked for others for a period of time, but nothing compared to being his own boss. So, when Sal’s Bistro in Uptown Harrisburg became available, he jumped at the chance to make it his own. He turned the concept from fine dining to an “all sports, all the time” theme and named the place “Mr. G’s Sports Bar.”

That was 17 years ago, and the place is still going strong, as is Giannaris. So, when he learned that nearby Sisco’s restaurant was up for sale, he decided it was time to introduce the East Shore to a new dining establishment. He opened Zorba’s Taverna and Pizzeria—Mediterranean food with a Greek accent.

“It was always in the back of my mind that, if I were to start something else, I would have a beautiful Greek restaurant,” said Giannaris, who added that he had been putting feelers out to Sisco’s for quite some time. “They finally called and said, ‘You’ve been pestering us for three years, and now we’ve decided to sell. Do you still want it?’”

They didn’t need to ask him twice. Since that call, he and his brother, John, have been putting in long hours and plenty of hard work to get the place up and running. They gutted and painted the place and hired an artist to festoon the walls with scenes of Greek landscapes.

The brothers brought aboard chef Vasso Antonopoulou, who hails from Greece, and hired Joe Neve, former owner of Harrisburg-based Sorrento’s, to help the kitchen staff prepare an array of food ranging from casual fare like subs, pizza and gyros to Greek dinner offerings like pastitsio, lamb and spanakopita.

“We have the best of both worlds when it comes to Italian and Greek food,” said Giannaris, referring to the combined talent of Neve and Antonopoulou.

Homemade desserts include kataifi, a sweet combination of shredded phyllo topped with walnuts and honey syrup, small Greek donuts called loukoumades, and the ever-popular baklava, to name a few. Patrons have their choice of libations ranging from authentic Greek coffee to a selection of craft beers and wines hailing from places like Portugal, Spain, France and Italy.

Giannaris said the restaurant takes its name from the fictional Greek character in the novel “Zorba the Greek.”

“Zorba was all about good wine, good food, dancing, laughing and smiling. He would entertain everybody and enjoyed good company and was always looking at the positive side of things. He represents the free-spirited Greek lifestyle and, in many ways, that’s me,” he said, with a chuckle.

A painting of the famous “Zorba” greets patrons as they enter the establishment.

Giannaris said business has been good since opening in August.

“Everybody loves the place,” he said, adding that he hopes it will turn into an area favorite like Mr. G’s, which is often voted “best neighborhood bar.”

For now, he plans to split his time between both establishments and is looking forward to meeting as many patrons as possible.

“I love being surrounded by people, and I greet everybody who comes through the door. I entertain them; I chat with them. It’s the personal touch that makes a big difference.”

“You’ll never be a stranger here,” he said.

Zorba’s Taverna and Pizzeria is located at 3716 N. 6th St., Harrisburg. Call 717-233-0143.

Continue Reading