Alex Nissirios, the owner of Stamna Greek Tavern in Bloomfield, New Jersey, has an intriguing life story that spans over four decades in the restaurant business. Originally from Greece, Alex arrived in the United States in 1970 at the age of 15. His mother, father, and two brothers had already settled in the US prior to his arrival. In Greece, Alex's father worked as a contractor but faced financial difficulties and lost all his money. This prompted his decision to move to America to seek better opportunities. In the meantime, Alex and his siblings were left in the care of a housekeeper while their parents worked tirelessly to establish themselves in the new country.
The family initially settled in Fairlawn, New Jersey, where Alex began working in the kitchen of a small restaurant. He started as a shy young boy who rarely ventured out, but eventually worked his way up to become a busboy. Despite facing language barriers, Alex managed to succeed and eventually became a manager. However, he felt the desire to further his education and returned to Greece to attend college.
Juggling work and studies, Alex went back and forth between the United States and Greece due to financial constraints. However, his perspective on Greece changed over time, and he became disenchanted with the system and post-college prospects. It was during this period that his older brother, in collaboration with their uncle, opened a diner in Mahwah, New Jersey, in 1976.
Intriguingly, Alex returned to the United States for good after witnessing the success of the family diner. He decided to venture into the restaurant business himself and, in 1981, opened the Nevada Diner in Bloomfield. The decision to invest in the diner was not an easy one, as it required a $10,000 down payment that Alex managed to secure through a loan. Remarkably, he has remained in the same business for an impressive 42 years.
As the diner industry faced challenges and decline, Alex sought new opportunities. Inspired by the 2004 Olympics in Greece, he realized the potential in introducing Greek cuisine to the American market. Thus, he opened Stamna Greek Tavern, focusing on authentic Greek dishes that were relatively unfamiliar to Americans at the time. With the support of his wife, who had no prior experience in the restaurant industry but excelled in customer service, Stamna quickly gained popularity.
Alex took it upon himself to educate his customers about Greek food and culture. He would personally interact with the patrons, explaining dishes and introducing Greek phrases. Stamna became a hub for various communities, including Turkish and Albanian customers, who appreciated the authentic flavors and warm atmosphere.
Over time, Stamna evolved into a successful establishment, attracting crowds of up to 200 people at a time. In 2009, Stamna gained significant attention from media outlets, including Channel 7 news, further propelling its reputation. As the diner industry waned, Stamna stood out as a unique and thriving Greek restaurant in an area dominated by Italian diners.
With the success of Stamna, Alex decided to relocate the restaurant to a larger space in 2019. The move allowed him to expand and diversify his business by adding a café and a fish restaurant to the establishment. Despite the challenges of finding quality employees in the current market, Alex remains committed to providing exceptional service and maintaining the authenticity of Greek cuisine.
Alex's story is not only a testament to his own perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit but also showcases the cultural melting pot that defines America. His journey from Greece to the United States, his struggles and successes, and his commitment to sharing Greek culture through food exemplify the American dream realized in the restaurant industry. Photos by Koray Kasap
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