Novy, which is located in Noe Valley, serves classic Greek fare and California cuisine in a homey, chic setting. Owned by siblings Kathryn and Kristen Gianaras, whose parents have owned the building since 1977, Novy has been in operation for just five years and has already turned into a neighborhood staple that local customers can’t do without. It makes perfect sense. Throughout the interview, I could tell that eating at Novy, (a nick-name for Noe Valley), is akin to eating at a friend or family member’s house: it’s comfortable, warm, and inviting.
I spoke with Kathryn Gianaras over the phone and listened to Novy’s story, in addition to how they’re faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, they’re operating limited hours of takeout and delivery with a 2-person team: Kathryn and her head chef, Carmelo.
“Dinner delivery is pretty good, but the lunch hour is slow. However, I’m hesitant to scrap lunch altogether,” Kathryn tells me. She mentions how there’s a 90-year-old man who walks there every day, down a steep hill to Novy’s for lunch. She can’t bear to close her lunch service when she knows this local man and nearby essential workers depend on Novy for takeout cuisine.
The Gianaras family includes three generations of restauranteurs; starting with Panos Gianaras, the sisters’ grandfather, who owned the Coliseum Bar and Restaurant for 30 years. His son John, along with wife Vi, owned Panos’ Restaurant for 20 years and continued to lease the building after the restaurant shut down.
When the last tenant’s lease ended, the couple offered their daughters an opportunity to carry on the family legacy: use the building and start their own restaurant. Kristin and Kathryn were a few years out of college at the time. They were entering their respective careers and neither had professional restaurant experience. Taking on the financial risk, pausing professional aspirations, and throwing themselves into the restaurant world would forever alter their paths. Listening to this, I couldn’t help but think that a business opportunity like this is so rare for young women.
Kathryn and Kristin decided to take the plunge. They worked for two years at Mission Rock Resort, a family friend’s restaurant, learning the basics. At the same time, they gutted and remodeled the Novy space, working hours on end themselves to bring the restaurant’s artistic, cozy style to life.
On March 16th, 2015, at ages 25 and 27, the women opened Novy. On their fifth Anniversary; March 16th, 2020, Novy received the “Stay at Home Order” from Mayor London Breed. Novy’s takeout business wasn’t strong enough to warrant keeping the full staff in operation and in response, the sisters closed the restaurant. They took out a business loan to sustain their employee’s pay, started a GoFundMe, and hoped for the best.
Setbacks are familiar to Kathryn and Kristin. Halfway through Novy’s first year, the two women took stock of whether or not to proceed with the restaurant. They were working 12-hour days, 7 days a week, with no time off. To say that this first year was difficult is a large understatement, they often asked themselves, “Is this restaurant worth it?” But, they decided to forge ahead and for the next few years, worked insanely hard, learning time and again from their mistakes. The women eventually found the right combination of people to comprise a stellar staff. They pared down a sprawling menu into a focused Greek/California-centric cuisine and they created a work culture where employees felt like family; the sisters wanted the staff to look forward to work each day and know that the owners would take care of them.
Even in this time of financial strain, Kathryn and Kristin are staying true to their values. One of the most important things Kathryn wanted to say, the one reason she and Carmelo are operating the restaurant on a takeout/delivery-only basis, is so they can make money for their furloughed employees, not for themselves. I could hear excitement in Kathryn’s voice as she told me that this morning she went to Restaurant Depot, bought a ton of food supplies, and put together individual care packages for Novy employees, delivered with a paycheck. From the consideration of their full staff to an elderly neighbor, what I admire most about these acts of kindness is their consistency. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Even a global pandemic can’t stop Novy from taking care of their staff and neighboring community on a daily basis.