The families behind Apollonia Grill and Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine in Cooper Creek.
SRQ Review | September 2022
Eddie Yzeiri of Apollonia Grill.
Grilling a Storm of Culinary Delights serving University Park diners for nearly a decade with its fresh Mediterranean cuisine, Apollonia Grill in the Cooper Creek area is the pride of the Yzeiri family. “Apollonia was opened with the vision of bringing authentic Greek Mediterranean cuisine to our region. We wanted to offer quality recipes but in an accessible and friendly setting,” says Eddie Yzeiri, manager of Apollonia, who works in the restaurant business. for more than 20 years. “Greek and Mediterranean cuisine is familiar to me because it is the food I grew up on. Many of our recipes are family recipes or dishes that have evolved and improved with time. Eddie Yzeiri and his family also owned El Greco Café on Main Street in downtown Sarasota before launching local Apollonia in The Shoppes at UTC.
Running a restaurant has always been a collaborative effort. “My mother and father opened the restaurant every morning, preparing the soups, the sauces and launching the restaurant. When we entered, the kitchen was ready for cooking and the dining room was ready for the entry of guests,” says Eddie Yzeiri. “I worked in the kitchen and my brother worked in the dining room. Our two wives were key in welcoming guests and ensuring they had a positive experience. Today, at Apollonia, these roles have evolved, especially since the start of the pandemic. “When restaurants closed during COVID, it was a very scary time. Our whole family depended on the success of the restaurant; there was no other income,” says Eddie Yzeiri. “But we made it through, being there for each other and staying strong. Our team has grown but we are still involved in day-to-day operations. Following on from the 2013 opening of the first Apollonia, the Yzeiris opened a second location at The Landings in 2019.
The Apollonia menu, at both locations, is rich in beloved items. “Our Lamb Shank Osso Bucco (braised leg of lamb with vegetables, herbs and red wine) is a dish that takes a lot of work and the end result is this flavorful, super tender and delicious shank that is memorable,” Eddie Yzeiri says. “The Saganaki cheese is always a guest favorite – not only is it very tasty, but it comes with a show when lighting it up in front of the guests.” Lamb chops, skewers, branzino, lobster pasta and moussaka are also among the must-haves. But there is always more to come.
“We are very excited for the future. We are planning to renovate the restaurant of The Shoppes at UTC”, explains Eddie Yzeiri. “Along with this, we intend to revamp our menus and introduce exciting new dishes. We always keep improving.
Poonam Maini has come a triumphant way to where she is now—from growing up in a small village in India to pioneering fine Indian Tandoor cuisine on Cooper Creek Boulevard. Maini originally launched Tandoor on Clark Road in 2001 before moving to The Shoppes at UTC in 2013, and the restaurant will move to an expanded space this fall. But doing all of this – by herself – was no easy task. “My motivation to work hard was to give a life to my children,” says Maini.
Maini grew up in a village called Garhdiwala in India and entered into an arranged marriage as a teenager (she even gave a TED talk about her experience a few years ago in New York). She came to the United States in 1989 and eventually settled in Florida, but started Tandoor after her divorce. Maini had three dependent children (Milen, now 34; Shamini, now 31; and Shubi, now 24), and her daughters worked with her as waiters and hosts at the flagship venue. Now her son, Shubi, co-runs Tandoor with his mother.
This family culinary tradition has a long history. “I grew up eating the kinds of items I now serve at Tandoor. My dad was a very avid cook, not a professional cook, but he loved to cook,” Maini explains. “I love to cook. young girl, when I had to choose a chore,
I chose the kitchen. I loved being with my dad in the kitchen. Butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, lamb rogan josh, tandoori chicken and spicy biryani – all dishes with family roots – are some of Tandoor’s cherished specialties.
And Maini is as involved in the restaurant industry as she is in the non-profit sphere.
She founded the organization Share Care Global in 2017, an initiative that provides healthy food and educational opportunities to the poor in her home village in India (especially women and children). The organization also helps teach women how to become entrepreneurs. Maini also hopes to one day open a hospital and an orphanage in the village.
“Every meal we sell at Tandoor provides a meal for someone in our food shelter; that’s about 400 meals a day,” says Maini. “Before I die, even if there are five people saying ‘Poonam helped change our lives’, it gives me purpose. I work very hard every day because I know how many people depend on Tandoor, not just the 20 members of my team, but also the people we help in India. It inspires me to work harder. It brings me peace and makes me happy.