by Mimi Montgomery
photographs by Eric Waters
If you’re walking on Hillsborough Street toward downtown, Taverna Agora is likely to call your name. The open-air seating on the roof is often packed-to-the-brim, as is the front patio, and live Greek music (and sometimes even a fire-wielding belly dancer) entertains both diners and passersby.
It’s not your average restaurant, and its owner, Lou Moshakos, is not your average born-and-bred Raleighite. A native of Lykovrisi, a small village in Greece outside of Sparta, Moshakos credits his Greek heritage as the source of his deep love for food, people, and entertaining.
And he’s good at it, as evidenced by the huge success of his company LM Restaurants, Inc., a hospitality management group he owns and runs with his family. His wife, Joy, and daughter, Amber, are both vice presidents in the company, and his daughters Chantal and Crystal are also involved. The group manages 35 restaurants in the Southeast, including the Carolina Ale House franchise; Hops Supply Co., Bluewater Waterfront Grill, and Oceanic in the Wilmington area; and, of course, Taverna Agora.
It all started when Moshakos left Greece for Montreal at 18. On his second day, he entered the restaurant business as a dishwasher. He met Joy there, and after 14 years, the couple moved to Boca Raton, Fla., where they opened a seafood restaurant. Joy worked in the kitchen; Moshakos shucked the clams and oysters.
When they got the chance to move to Raleigh in 1992 to run a Miami Subs franchise, they jumped at the opportunity, and have never looked back. “I love it,” Moshakos says. “I love the people here … they’re so friendly. They’re so family-oriented.” He says Raleigh reminds him of a Greek village.
Moshakos found success with his many restaurant franchises in the Triangle, but still couldn’t track down good local Greek food. He decided to take matters into his own hands, and opened the original location of Taverna Agora on Glenwood Avenue in 2003. In Greek, a taverna is a small restaurant and an agora is a central gathering place, making the title a fitting name for a restaurant that embodies the family-centered, cozy feeling of village life Moshakos grew up with. “You feel like you’re home,” he says of coming to Taverna Agora. “It’s the closest you’ll be to home (in Greece) without going there.”
When the Glenwood Avenue lease was almost up, Moshakos knew he wanted to move the restaurant downtown, closer to foot traffic. When he found the current location, he knew it was perfect: Originally an IBM office building built in 1960, it’s positioned right between Glenwood South and downtown, making it the “missing link” Hillsborough needed, Moshakos says.
Opened last summer, the new space retains the charm of the original, with a new cosmopolitan twist: The upstairs roof has an almost-island vibe, with lots of greenery, views of 200-year-old oak trees, trendy seating, and a bar with an original cocktail menu. It’s made for celebrating, eating, and gathering in traditional Greek style.
To capture that festive air without leaving home, Moshakos has shared Taverna Agora’s Greek Mule cocktail recipe. Lemon and lime juice, baklava syrup, and fresh ginger make it a fresh choice for the August heat and perfect for a summer soiree. As Moshakos would say, “That’s the Greek hospitality.”
1 ¼ ounces Tito’s Vodka
½ ounce baklava syrup*
Mix vodka, baklava syrup, and juice from lime and lemon in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour over ice. Top with ginger beer and freshly grated ginger. Garnish with a lime wheel.
*Baklava syrup: Infuse simple syrup with cinnamon and citrus.
326 Hillsborough St.; tavernaagora.com