Call it trendy… call it a fad… but it really seems like people are choosing to eat healthier and pay more attention to what they put into their bodies these days. At least in the circles we run in. If you are one of those people, then you should probably continue reading this article because there’s some places here in Buffalo where you can dine out, and feel safer about what you’re eating. If you aren’t paying close attention, then perhaps this might cause you to start to think about that a little bit. In our home, we care about where our food comes from, what chemicals we are consuming and how what we eat is affecting our health and our children. Personally, I am thankful that people like Paul Tsouflidis, the owner of Acropolis and Newbury Street, are working on bringing clean food to Buffalo. Read on, and learn about what Paul has going on and why he has made the decisions that he has made when it comes to the food that he serves in his establishments.
“I was born here in Buffalo and on Elmwood for 32 years. Right where those ladies are sitting and enjoying their meal was my bedroom for about 23 of those years. This was an apartment back then, where I grew up. For 27 years, my parents had Acropolis, the Greek diner downstairs. That’s where I got a lot of my entrepreneurial experience. My mom taught me how to cook.”
“I was working at Acropolis in 2005 and had an opportunity to open a market downtown with Rocco Termini. He opened the Ellicott Lofts and I was one of his first tenants. If you know anything about Rocco, he has vision. At that time, he just wanted to grow the street. He approached me with an idea to open what is now called the Washington Market. I opened it with a partner. That was my first dab at doing things on my own. It was a really good learning experience for me. Right after that, I moved to Las Vegas for a year and a half. I had a technology side business and decided to risk everything and move. I had one client there, and one thing led to another and got a couple big clients and started changing out software in casinos and small restaurants. I basically had a small technology company. Two years later, my love for Acropolis was a little too strong. I decided to come back here. This is what I need to do. It’s what I love to do.”
Acropolis on Elmwood
“I’ve wanted to own this place since I was 13 or 14 years old. It took me about three years to convince my parents to let me take over Acropolis. I had a meeting with them to propose Acropolis Opa, which is what we are doing now with the two floors. My mom was for it, but my dad said no. After a couple more “no’s”, I went in hard with a business plan and sketches, and I got some money together and presented a package to my parents to buy them out. That worked. I took over Acropolis from my parents in January of 2010, but my family is still with me. My mom is still the chef here and my dad does everything from maintenance to electrical.”
“As soon as I took over, I closed and renovated the first floor to make it more contemporary. 2012 came and I had the opportunity to renovate the second floor. I wanted two floors. We had a little hoopla with the city and some neighbors. This was the first restaurant in the area to do two floors. They didn’t want a bar upstairs, they thought it was a nightclub. We shelved the bar plans for the current design. But, nowadays you can go to a few places around here and they have second-floor bars. We had some issues with getting approval to make the changes to Acropolis. One day, a friend of mine came to me, he saw that I had a lot of issues with some neighbors. He gave me a business card for a lawyer and told me “take this business card, hire him and all of your problems will go away”. I called the lawyer and about a year later, all of my problems went away. I sued the city and won, and everything went away. Ever since then, I have had zero issues with the neighborhood and the city of Buffalo. The mayor has been exceptional with me and a lot of small businesses on the street. So has the buildings department. That friend was Pano, from Pano’s Restaurant. I consider him to be one of the best humans that I have come in contact with. He is always helping and advising me. It’s great to have someone like that, which most people would consider competition. I’ve never seen it that way. He helps almost every business on Elmwood because of the magnitude of that restaurant. For him to come in here and give me that tells me that he really wants me to succeed here. I’ll never forget that day.”
What’s next for Acropolis?
“I was going to sell Acropolis and focus on Newbury Street, because it takes a huge commitment to operate this restaurant. But, I decided I couldn’t do it. There is a legacy here for my family. So now, I want to expand and build a banquet room here. Nobody in Buffalo knows this but you.” (and now you know) “I think that this is going to make Acropolis be here for a long time. There will be a small banquet area with some parking in the back, along with a bigger kitchen. I think that will help Acropolis be in this neighborhood for a long time.”
Newbury Street & the non-GMO movement
“I always wanted to open a fast-food/quick service casual restaurant. I think fast casual is the wave of the future. When you combine it with healthy, the future and potential is huge. All of the big cities have healthy fast casual concepts taking off. Buffalo is a little behind with it, but I wanted to take a gamble. I told my sister about my idea and she started telling me about the non-GMO (genetically modified organism) movement. I started researching non-GMO and it became a part of me. I learned about farms that are doing disgusting things and how they are getting away with it. I learned how our meat is processed and how they treat the animals on those farms. It was really easy for me to go non-GMO once I started doing research and knowing the facts about farming and our food supply system. It’s pretty impossible to do non-GMO with Acropolis, but we went from 95% GMO to 70% GMO here. That’s big for a place like this because you have liquor, and breakfast foods. I’m always working and educating my staff about GMO’s. But, at Newbury, I decided to go 100% non-GMO. It was never done before in the country. There are places that are organic, but they were mostly full service and their price points were very high. Launching a fast casual place that eliminates all of the junk in the food was a first. I’ve traveled to a lot of cities to research salad bars and juice bars and most of them were either organic, or didn’t care.”
Why non-GMO versus Organic?
“Organic farmers are not allowed to spray any chemicals on their crops. Non-GMO farmers are allowed to spray their crops, but they are not allowed to use any seeds that have any manipulation. It has to be a pure seed. It can’t be from Monsanto, Bayer or Dupont, or any of those companies that take pure seeds and inject them with chemicals or pesticides, or manipulate their DNA. We don’t allow that at Newbury. The reason that I allow chemicals to be sprayed on the crops because at its core, the fruit or vegetable is pure. Yes there is about a 5% chance of margin where the chemical may seep in the actual plant, but at Newbury, we have an antimicrobial wash system where all of our produce is washed. It eliminates 99% of the bacteria, residue and pesticides on the topical portions of our fruits and vegetables. Once I heard about this, I went to places like Wegmans that use it to learn more. Restaurants don’t really use it. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it to me. It makes me feel like our produce is safe. All of my facilities use this wash system. I go to bed knowing that my customers are safe from bacteria and pesticides, unlike the Chipotle scare. The other reason that I did it was because I wanted to get as close as possible to an organic farm. If you know anything about farming, and you look at an organic farm, it’s likely surrounded by GMO farms. There’s seepage, cross-contamination, run-offs, wind blows pesticides. There’s so much contamination that can happen. The government allows for a 5% margin of error for organic farms to have chemicals in their soil. I wanted to feed as many people as possible, not just the people who can afford organic food. I want to make people healthier and I think the way to go about that is to adhere to the non-GMO movement. I make sure that the farmers I deal with use pure seeds and are commitment to non-GMO farming. 5 years from now, I think that everyone is going to be non-GMO. There is a big push for it, we need to keep fighting for it. I also wanted to keep my prices as low as possible. There are a few ingredients that I had to go with completely organic. One of those is corn. I don’t trust anyone in this country when it comes to corn or soy products. Wheat also has to be organic. We don’t do a lot of wheat there, but our tortilla shells are all organic. Our chicken is from Bell and Evans. Their chickens eat vegetables and roam the farm. It’s probably the purest chicken that you can get in the US right now. I would use a local place, but I would deplete all of their chicken in one day. I think that it will eventually get to the point where non-GMO and organic will mesh and it will just be called “clean eating”. There hopefully won’t be any GMO’s in our food, or in the food that we are feeding to animals. Places like Chipotle are a god-send to people like me. They are a legit big company that is committed to the non-GMO movement.”
“I’m very proud of Newbury Street. It’s my passion. I’ve gotten a lot of stuff wrong with Newbury as far as design. I’m closing Newbury Street at the end of October to redesign it as a prototype because at the end of the year we are going to approved for franchising in about 25 states, initially. Newbury will be franchised next year. There’s one guaranteed in Orchard Park, one on Transit Road as well. We are really looking at the medical corridor. I have some real estate developers that are good friends of mine. Nick Sinatra in particular has taken on and believes in the non-GMO movement and healthy lifestyles. He’s committed to it. It really helps to have someone who is helping to redevelop the city on board with healthy lifestyles. I like that about him a lot. They are going to be drive-thru locations and we’re going to have a app pretty soon that will allow you to place an order instead of waiting. I want Buffalo to be proud that it was born here. The branding for Newbury street is changing. It’s just going to be Newbury. That’s happening soon. Crush will be merging into Newbury, and will be under the one brand.”
What else are you working on?
“I have a few other projects that I’m working on, including the Tesla project down on Niagara Street.” Paul is working with some partners on a new space that sounds really cool. The space that they are using is an old facility that was used by Nikola Tesla, and still has some of the original features from that time. His plans for the space will be revealed more in the coming months, but from what we know so far, it sounds really cool, and educational as well!
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“Focus! Focus on one thing and crush it. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Don’t do too much at once. My personal life has taken a back seat. So, if you want to have a balance from the get-go, make sure your personal life is in order. It’s going to be affected no matter what you do. Also, I don’t take “no” very well from anybody. If you’re an entrepreneur in the restaurant business, and you want to succeed, especially in this town, you better have thick skin and roll your sleeves up. You have to work every day. There’s someone out there that wants that market share too. And they probably have a better idea than you do. I’m not the brightest person, but I will outwork most people. That’s what has gotten me to where I am right now. You have to roll your sleeves up and work and I think that’s where a lot of failure comes in. I fail all of the time. But I get right up and do or try something different. There are also a lot of people out there with a lot of experience that you should listen to. Like Pano! If Pano comes to a table and starts telling me something, I shut up and just listen. You listen to the people who have that experience and have done it. Have a mentor, and choose a really good mentor that works hard.”
- Pano Georgiadis
- Newell Nussbaumer
- Rocco Termini