Stam and Maria to open a Greek restaurant in York – after their fortunes were transformed by the lockdown

The team at Stam & Maria Greek Corner Café (L-R): Stamatios Koulouris, aka Stam; Maria Dendia; and Panagiotis Nikou, aka Panos. Photograph: YorkMix
13 Aug 2020 @ 5.46 pm
| Food & Drink

A city centre fish and chip shop has closed – but plans are well advanced to turn it into an authentic Greek restaurant.

The long-beleaguered Papas Fish & Chips on Parliament Street in York has finally shut for good.

And now the three-storey building is being taken over by a family business whose fortunes were turned around by the lockdown.

Papa’s left York

Stamatios Koulouris, better known as Stam, and his partner Maria Dendia run the Greek street food trailer in Shambles Market, and a corner café.

The success of that café during lockdown has enabled them to take over Papa’s Fish and Chips, ready to realise Stam’s dream of opening a Greek restaurant.

Amazing turnaround

People queue for coffee at Stam and Maria’s cafe, in May. Photograph: Richard McDougall

Stam hails from Corfu. When he moved to England he stayed in London for five days but didn’t like it there.

He moved north, and worked in Harrogate and Beverley before coming to York three years ago.

With partner Maria Dendia he began the street food stall – featuring gyro wraps, a traditional Corfu recipe, with marinated chicken and herbs, which proved particularly popular.

Last September they opened Stam & Maria Greek Corner Café, on the corner of Parliament Street and Jubbergate. And while the lockdown put the brakes on many businesses, it was the making of the café.

“To be honest, before lockdown I couldn’t pay the bills,” Stam told YorkMix.

“It was really quiet because people didn’t know that we opened there.”

When other eateries shut, they stayed open, converting into a takeaway service where people could buy coffee and food from the doorway. Soon there were queues outside the door.

“People noticed us because everything else was closed. And people have kept coming and supporting us.”

Like his grandma cooked

Maria and Stam in their market kiosk. Photograph: Stephen Hooker

Stam said: “Always my dream was to have a restaurant. But it was too expensive, I couldn’t afford one.

“Now that we earned some money during the lockdown, I said ‘let’s go’.”

The Papa’s Fish and Chips building was ideal because it’s close to both the food trailer and the café, so he can manage all three.

“It’s going to be really difficult – but it’s always like that. I want to cook there like my grandmother used to cook. Nice food, with a lot of taste, a lot of flavour.”

Closed… Papa’s Fish and Chips. Photograph: YorkMix

There will be 36 tables, and a lift to take the food to the upper floors. The top floor will be a VIP room.

He plans to completely re-design the inside, opening at the earliest the end of September – but certainly before Christmas.

The restaurant will be called Wine Stories – “because we’re going to have a lot of wine, and we’ll have a big book where people can write their stories about when they had a lot of wine!

“It’s going to be beautiful and different.”

Most of the wine will come from Greece.

He’s not sure of the menu yet. “It will be food I like. I’m a fat guy, I like my food. It will be home-made food.”

Papa’s Fish and Chips

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It began as the National Fish & Chip Museum – where you could enjoy one of each cooked in a traditional coal-powered fryer by staff in period dress, then explore exhibits in the upstairs rooms as you ate.

It was meant to be the jewel in the crown of the Papa’s Fish & Chips chain, which already had restaurants in Hull, Scarborough and elsewhere.

And the opening offer couldn’t be beaten – fish and chips for 4p on the first day, a price to evoke Victorian times. That led to enormous queues, which even made the national media.

However problems with the coal-fired frying range meant the restaurant soon closed. It reopened, without the museum, but closed again soon afterwards and now it is gone for good.