Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain

Creating a “Little Village”

In Eat, May 2022 by Eric GinsburgLeave a Comment

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Giorgios Bakatsias seeks to create a “restaurant row” with two new concepts at North Hills.

Blink and Giorgios Bakatsias will have opened five new restaurants this year.

At a time when many restaurateurs are struggling after two years of fluctuating regulations and risk, Bakatsias is emerging from the pandemic like an unstoppable juggernaut. He’s building out two new concepts in North Hills alone, along with a third in the upcoming East End Market and others farther afield under construction. While some are tepid about the industry’s future, Bakatsias is all in—that’s the only way he knows how to operate, he told Raleigh Magazine in an exclusive interview.

“Am I a risk-taker? Yeah, of course,” Bakatsias said nonchalantly. “But I do it with calculated energy and a great team around me.” 

Giorgios Bakatsias (Forrest Mason Media)

Bakatsias is the affable elder statesman of the Triangle’s restaurant scene, a Greek immigrant often found sporting his signature newsboy hat and white button-down. His Giorgios Hospitality & Lifestyle Group has long been an anchor in Chapel Hill and Durham with mostly European-style mainstays including Kipos Greek Taverna, Vin Rouge, Parizade, Bin 54, Local 22 and, more recently, the acclaimed Italian spot Osteria Georgi. In Raleigh, his revered Rosewater Kitchen & Bar will soon be joined by Las Ramblas tapas restaurant and Giorgio Pizza Bar in North Hills, as well as East End Bistrot, a high-end French bistro in East End Market.

It should surprise no one that Bakatsias was named 2022 Restaurateur of the Year by the NC Restaurant & Lodging Association, given his prolific range and seemingly endless growth. He’ll soon own 14 unique concepts in the Triangle, all while beginning a statewide expansion of Kipos. Wilmington is first, but Bakatsias also admitted that he’s planning versions of the Greek staple across the state. 

It wasn’t always like this, of course, and for years, Bakatsias skirted Raleigh, expanding his reach to Wake Forest first. Reluctant to say anything critical of the City of Oaks, Bakatsias fairly points out that Raleigh had long cultivated a love affair with chains.

“Raleigh is a very strong restaurant town,” he said. “I like it more now. Now it’s balanced out.”

Bakatsias grew to Raleigh almost by chance. In town for a dinner meeting, he noticed commercial space with “a beautiful garden” nestled in North Hills and felt immediately drawn to it. Soon after, Rosewater Kitchen was born. 

That process is not dissimilar from Bakatsias’ general approach. He usually doesn’t go out looking in a specific area, but sometimes a space “winks” at him, Bakatsias said. In North Hills, a good relationship with the developer and an opportunity to create “a little village” inspired him to double down and open two more restaurants nearby. 

“My intention is almost to create a ‘restaurant row’ with concepts that are unique.”

—Giorgios Bakatsias

“My intention is almost to create a ‘restaurant row’ with concepts that are unique,” he said. “When I saw turnover in chain spaces, I said, ‘I think this is a good opportunity to provide more local concepts.’”

Las Ramblas—named for the iconic tree-lined boulevard popular with Barcelona tourists—promises to be an electric and celebratory tapas bar, replete with “brilliant tile work,” high-energy music, toasting guests and “bold” small bites, said Bakatsias. 

Brian Jenzer will take over the kitchen and join Las Ramblas as a partner along with Laszlo Lukacsi, co-owner of Las Ramblas and Rosewater Kitchen and Bar. Meanwhile, the Momofuku and Culinary Institute of America alum will keep his role as executive chef at Rosewater. Bakatsias is also promoting from within for Giorgio Pizza Bar, tapping Osteria Georgi’s chef de cuisine Jefe Lubiano to helm the operation. It’s a natural pick, as Lubiano formerly ran his own Pop’s Back Door South pizzeria until 2016, and he brags a range of experience including a stint at the popular Durham Hotel.

Having a deep bench of talent is a cornerstone to Bakatsias’ meteoric growth. He’s quick to praise his whole team, adding that Lubiano has been “instrumental” and calling Jenzer
a “rock star.” 

“You have to provide space for them to grow,” he said. “It’s not just a paycheck—though of course that’s important—but it’s also a chance for them to curate their craft, a chance to experiment.”

The proximity of the restaurants allows for easier management and oversight, Bakatsias said, but he also thinks the three distinct menus will complement each other and add vibrancy to an area that’s still growing. Bakatsias took a similar approach with Parizade and Local 22 in Durham, two markedly different restaurants that compete for parking space.

While the forthcoming pizza bar may be more casual and takeout- friendly and Las Ramblas will be the kind of place to celebrate a birthday among friends, East End Bistrot will be a high-end special occasion date-night spot that’s decidedly more intimate. It is slated to open this fall, while the other two should be ready in July or August. 

Despite their differences, it’s safe to assume each will be impeccably designed. From afar, Bakatsias may look like Taz, a ball of energy blazing a zigzagging path that places him everywhere at once. But he never skimps on the vibe—“That’s one of my love affairs,” he said—because he wants each restaurant to grip patrons as they walk in the door, pulling them in. Clearly, his seduction is working.

Jefe Lubiano (Kathleen Marshall)
Brian Jenzer (Long Lens Photography)

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