by Charles McGuigan
Bellevue is now home to an ample slice of Mediterranean cuisine—Turkish, Greek, Italian, Spanish—from Adana kebabs to souvlaki, from calamari to shrimp Santorini, even empanadas.
Jimmy and Danniella Tsamouras, long-time owners of Dot’s Back Inn, recently opened Demi’s (which Jimmy calls, a Mediterranean kitchen) just across MacArthur Avenue.
What a restaurant! And what food. Fit for the gods and goddesses who ruled those warm countries bordering Mare Internum.
When the owner of the restaurant that previously occupied the space on MacArthur Avenue decided not to re-open after returning from a vacation in Greece, Danniella and Jimmy seized the opportunity.
“My husband said, ‘Well if somebody’s going to go in there, why not us?’” Danniella tells me, seated at the bar, one stool down from Jimmy. “And then on October 31 he came home and said, ‘Well we bought a restaurant.’ Had my husband had his way he would have opened the first day that we had the keys. But I felt we owed the community more than that. We needed to take our time. I think the community expected more out of us than just a turnkey restaurant, and we needed to make it our own.”
Which is exactly what they did. Danniella had a vision for the front of the house—Modern Mediterranean. With a keen aesthetic eye and an inventive mind, began tackling the interior rehab on November 13, and within a month had transformed the space, utterly.
“So my very generous husband gave me a very limited budget, and we worked with what we had,” she says, smiling over at Jimmy, who returns the smile, and adds a nod. “We repurposed the existing furniture and fixtures, and did some painting and a little bit of carpentry work and used our imaginations. We pulled it all together in a month with love and long hours of work from family members.”
There’s a large mosaic mural of a mati tree in the dining room, which was crafted by Jimmy’s sister Angie Blankenship, and another above the hostess station created by Danniella. “My wife’s very artistic,” says Jimmy. “She has a very nice vision.”
Mati is literally Greek for “eye” and the mati growing from the tree are matiasmas, talismans of a sort made of glass with a dark center or pupil, surrounded by white, and a final ring of cobalt blue. “It’s to keep the evil away from you,” Jimmy tells me. “It’s kind of like a good luck charm. It’s a very big thing in the Mediterranean. It’s a big thing in Turkey.”
They are both taking a short breather after last night’s soft opening—which turned out to be not that soft–and getting ready for the grand opening this Thursday. About 80 people had been invited to the soft opening. “And then my husband said, ‘Come on in and we’ll figure it out,” says Danniella. “And a lot of people came in and then we figured it out. We did about 130 covers last night.”
Jimmy is a seasoned chef who cut his teeth while still a teenager, washing dishes at The College Deli in Williamsburg, a restaurant owned at that time by his parents.
A couple years out of high school Jimmy attended what is perhaps the world’s premier culinary college—the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduation, Jimmy plied his trade and honed his skills in Hawaii, Scottsdale, Hilton Head and New York, before returning to Richmond, and later buying Dot’s Back Inn.
He sees Demi’s as a place where he can spread his wings further, soar to even loftier heights, a modern-day Daedalus. ”The idea for the menu comes from my Greek background, my Mediterranean background, my culinary experiences, and being able to cook Italian food, Greek food, and we wanted to be able to incorporate Turkish and Spanish as well,” Jimmy says. “We kind of have a little bit of each flair.”
He ticks off entrees and appetizers as I follow with him from the hard copy of their impressive menu. “Empanadas—beef, vegetable and cheese, we have quite a variety of vegetarian dishes,” he says. “We have a whole dips and spreads menu where you have eight different choices so you can get two, three or four types of spreads served with grilled pita bread. Grilled salmon, pork marsala, Spanish seafood stew, sautéed shrimp and chorizo, chicken picata.” And there are pasta dishes and kabobs, soups and salads, and four mussel dishes that would please any Mediterranean palate.
When I comment on the moderate pricing, Jimmy says, “I like to keep things reasonable.”
“We give you a lot of options,” he adds. “I would say our entrees run from $12 to $22. Our dinner specials will run from $14 to $28. That will give us the option to do higher end seafood like your groupers and dry packed scallops.”
With Dot’s Back Inn just up the street, I wonder if Jimmy and Danniella are competing with themselves.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “I think I’m giving people in the neighborhood something different. Something else to go to, maybe, something they crave. It’s nice that’s it’s so close, to tell you the truth, so I can run back and forth. It’s a completely different venue. Dot’s is open from nine am till midnight. You can go in there and eat from three to eighteen dollars, a wide variety menu, serving breakfast all day long. Demi’s is much more of a dinner concept. It’s more of a full-service restaurant. It’s more casual upscale.”
Each dish that comes out of the kitchen at Demi’s was prepared from scratch in the kitchen at Demi’s. “Everything is fresh,” says Jimmy. “We make everything in-house, as we do at Dot’s.”
Both wife and husband, in addition to their responsibilities at Demi’s, each runs another business. For Jimmy, of course, it’s Dot’s Back Inn; for Danniella, it’s Spa 310, her successful medical spa salon at the corner of Nansemond and Cary. “I started my practice the same year he bought Dot’s so we both started business ten years ago,”Danniella says. “And, ironically enough, our official opening night here is January 5, and that was my opening day at Spa 310 in Carytown.”
“Numerology,” Demi suggests.
For years Daniella had worked in the restaurant business, and then decided on another career route. “I went to aesthetics school and got my master’s in aesthetics and started Spa 310,” she says. “I’m a medical master aesthetician. I sit on the Board of Barbers and Cosmetology for the state of Virginia, and I formerly chaired it for two years.”
Managing both businesses can be challenging for both Daniella and her husband, but by sharing the workload at Demi’s, and having great personnel at their other businesses, they’re able to pull it off.
“I was fortunate enough to find great people for my kitchen and we’ve got excellent people in the front of the house,” says Jimmy. “And my staff at Dot’s have it covered over there.”
Daniella nods. “I’ve got great people at Spa 310,” she says. “And for Demi’s we hired some seasoned servers from the community. I am overseeing the front of the house, and my daughter’s helping out. She’s still at Dot’s one day a week, but I might need her a little more here in the beginning.”
As they prepare for their second night, Daniella says, “I haven’t slept in forty-eight hours,” and then quickly amends that to, “I haven’t slept in six weeks.”
Jimmy tells me they named their new restaurant for their five-year-old daughter, Dimitri. “I wanted something that was simple, easy for people to remember,” he says. “I wanted something that was personal and something that was Mediterranean. We call our daughter Demi for short.”
“I’m really excited and I’m also very tired,” says Danniella. “I think right now we’re both running on adrenaline and excitement.”
“And nerves,” her husband says.
Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10; Friday and Saturday, 5-11; Sunday, 5-10
4017 MacArthur Avenue
Richmond, VA 23227