Some sword-swallowing with your souvlaki? Saint John restaurant marks 50 years in business

·4 min read
The Med, pictured on the left shortly after it opened in the 1970s, has gone through a lot of changes over the years. On the right - the revamped Rothesay Ave. restaurant as it appears in 2021. (Submitted by Chris  - image credit)
The Med, pictured on the left shortly after it opened in the 1970s, has gone through a lot of changes over the years. On the right - the revamped Rothesay Ave. restaurant as it appears in 2021. (Submitted by Chris - image credit)

Fire-dancers. Sword-swallowing acts. Train derailments. Tiny Tim playing "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips" on the ukulele.

The Mediterranean Restaurant in Saint John has seen a lot of excitement over the past five decades.

The restaurant, founded by Greek immigrants in 1971, is celebrating 50 years in business this summer.

"We have accommodated birthday parties, weddings, baptisms, family get-togethers," said John Likourgiotis, who co-owns "The Med", as many Saint Johners call it, with his twin brother, Chris.

Julia Wright / CBC
Julia Wright / CBC

"Especially if you get into the older generation here in Saint John, everybody probably has an experience here," John said.

"When you're around for 50 years you're bound to have everybody coming in the door at some point."

Thriving Greek community

The restaurant was founded by George "Papa George" Likourgiotis, his son Theodore Likourgiotis, and fellow Greek entrepreneur Mike Feggos.

"The three of them moved back from Greece, and decided to open up a restaurant and nightclub where there would be food and music," Chris said.

Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis
Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis

Prior to The Med, the family operated The Grenada restaurant on Waterloo Street in the 1950s, and The Diana in the City Market in the 1960s.

They were a key part of a restaurant scene fuelled in part by the city's then-thriving Greek community — including family friends Costa, Peter, Nick and Demetri Georgoudis, who founded Vito's Restaurant in 1972.

From the swamp, to the stage

The Med didn't seem instantly destined for long-term success, Chris recalls.

"My earliest recollection is standing in this field, before there was a restaurant, with my dad and my brother. Dad said to us, 'This is where we're going to build the restaurant.' I remember thinking, 'I can't imagine something being built here.' It was like a swamp."

From murky beginnings, the Med quickly turned into one of the city's top night spots.

Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis
Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis

Patrons at the cabaret had to adhere to a dress code — jackets for the men, evening dress for the ladies.

"It was almost like a wedding every day," John said.

In the 1980s, the Athenian Room offered live shows six days a week. The first act of the night was music, while the second act was more varied.

Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis
Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis

Ukulele sensation Tiny Tim, of "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips" fame, played a gig in the eighties backed up by Saint John's own Donnie and the Monarchs. Batman actor Adam West stopped by to dine on a trip to Saint John in the late 1970s.

Another band, Hawaiian Fabulous, "put on a full show in Hawaiian garb," Chris said, including fire-dancers spinning flaming batons. Another act, The Michel Derry Band, featured a "very erotic act behind a silk screen. I think that was my favourite," John laughed.

Other acts, like Ireland's Trend and the Korean cover band The Happy Dolls, hailed from around the globe.

"For Saint John at that time the entertainment that came through here was amazing."

In 2002, the Likourgiotises opened The Blue Olive, which hosted big acts including Mariana's Trench, Bruce Guthro, Serena Ryder, David Usher, and Ron Sexsmith.

Whole lot of shakin' going on

One evening last summer, the music wasn't the thing rocking at The Med.

In June 2020, a CN railway train carrying potash and wood chips derailed directly behind the restaurant during the Saturday night dinner service.

Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis
Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis

"All of a sudden there was a little shake, then there was a great big, almost like an explosion. I thought,'What is going on in here!'" said Chris. "Someone came in and said there's been a train derailment in the back. We ran out and saw the train off the tracks.

"We had to evacuate everybody. There was just a little bit of ground damage but nothing serious."

Dynamic duo

Running a business with your twin can also have its rare explosive moments.

"Business is never easy when it's more than one person. When it's family, there is another variable in the equation. When you're twins it's even more so," John said.

"But the truth is that I wouldn't want to be in business with anybody else."

"We've had our moments, but we get along pretty good," Chris said.

Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis
Submitted by Chris Likourgiotis

The staff, some of which have been with the restaurant for over 30 years are also family.

"it's not just us," John said. "It's also the long-term staff who have carried us along the way."

The business continues to expand in new ways. In 2011, the family opened Splash Thai cuisine with executive chef Phongsri Nilkamhaeng, who came from Thailand to Saint John in 2000.

Fourth generation

A golden anniversary is a big deal for any local business.

But in the restaurant industry, said John, 50 years is "almost unheard of. We like to think that this will carry on for years to come."

A fourth generation of the Likourgiotis family is now entering the business, with Chris's son Theo working at Splash To-Go in Rothesay.

The brothers are proud of that staying power in the Port City.

"This could only happen in a city like Saint John," John said.

"I think that's what makes a city — all the different cultures coming in. This is something I think we had a small part in in the city of Saint John."

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