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Long-time Greek restaurant Athena Pallas is planning to close in Crystal City

Athena Pallas Greek Restaurant in Crystal City is closing (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Athena Pallas in Crystal City is set to serve its final spanakopita on Sunday, July 31.

The 25-year-old Greek restaurant at 556 22nd Street S. is closing at the end of this month, the owners confirmed to ARLnow.

The reason seems to be a disagreement with the landlord of the 23rd Street S. “restaurant row.”

The property owner told ARLnow that they wanted “adjustments” in terms of Athena’s management and operations, something that the owners Mike Kosmides and Kallia Sambrakos say is a deal breaker.

“They recommended that we get a partner or hire a manager… we are tenants, we pay the rent,” Kosmides said. “You have no say in how we operate… They don’t want us here anymore because we are old and cannot perform well.”

He also says that he’s had recent health issues as well as a family death that’s impacted the couple’s ability to run the restaurant.

The property owners acknowledged operational changes were asked for and would “absolutely” support Athena Palla staying open if they were to make the suggested changes.

“Between Covid and the terrible loss of her son there has been a lot of downtime at Athena. We did our best to work with them and asked for some adjustments in management in order to see longevity. Athena opted to shutter doors instead,” Georgia and Stratis Voutsas said in a statement to ARLnow. “We’re heartbroken, are certainly dismayed with the unkind misinterpretation, but would welcome them to continue to operate with the changes.”

The landlords also wanted to make it clear that this isn’t an “economic closure,” but rather one related to the restaurant’s lease being up. The lease has been month-to-month for some time now, both the restaurant owners and the landlord told ARLnow.

There have been several meetings over the last few weeks to rectify the issue and, perhaps, reach a compromise to keep the restaurant open, including one just over the weekend. However, there seems to be an impasse in negotiations, which both sides acknowledge.

As of Monday (July 18) afternoon, Sambrakos says they are “100%” closing at the end of the month.

Whatever the reasons may be, Kosmides and Sambrakos say that they are sad their restaurant is closing after 25 years. Both are from Greece — Kosmides is from Athens and Sambrakos is from Sparta — and took pride in serving their native food. Much of their business came from catering and events, so it was also about being there for special occasions.

“We had a social function and a community function,” Kosmides said. “I wanted to be here for all of their engagements, all the way to the wedding and the funeral.”

The couple previously owned a restaurant in Clarendon, before opening here in the late 1990s, they said. But with Athena closing, this is now their time to retire.

Sambrakos says when she told a regular recently they were closing and the couple was retiring, the customer started crying.

It’s not lost upon the couple that this neighborhood is in the throes of major change. Amazon is in the midst of building a headquarters close by, which is expected to bring thousands of new employees (and potential diners) to the corridor. Because of this, housing prices have skyrocketed since the HQ2 announcement. Meanwhile, the effects of the pandemic led to a major dip in business for Athena.

“I don’t think we would benefit from [Amazon being nearby] even if we were here,” Kosmides said, discussing the decision to close. “It would take two years to really recover [from the pandemic] and make it prosperous again.”

Georgia Voutsas said the owners of Athena Pallas are more than tenants, they’re “family,” and it’s disappointing that the situation has come to this.

“We love all of our restaurants and have a special affinity for them as family,” she told ARLnow in a text message. “We are saddened to see them go and wish Mike and Kalia quality time on their retirement journey.”

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