CORNELIUS – My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a hit in 2002 for it’s over the top portrayal of Greek family life here in America. But was it so over the top?
After meeting John and Dimitri Zaravelis, one might wonder if any artistic license was taken at all. The father, John, is gregarious and hilarious offering, advice and observations in his charming Greek accent. Dimitri, the son, is quieter, letting his father have his say and looking on with bemused grins.
Dimitri still lives at home with his brother, grandfather and grandmother. An aunt and uncle recently moved in as well.
“It’s a little tight,” said Dimitri Zaravelis. “But we’re really not home all that much.”
John Zaravelis swoops in with a grin. “That is what the Greeks do. We live with our family. And we eat.”
Big Bitez opened on June 5, 2002. The family chose Cornelius because a friend in real estate showed them the space which housed another restaurant. They have grown to really love the area.
“This restaurant is like a neighborhood,” said John Zaravelis. “This place is built on friendship.”
It was also built on hard work from the family. John Zaravelis and his father made the counter, all the tables and the menu box in the restaurant.
“If you look in our house, it’s all the same furniture,” laughs Dimitri Zaravelis.
A second Big Bitez opened in Mooresville in 2009 and is run by John’s wife Helen. A third location in coming soon in Huntersville.
The name incorporates the letter Z for the family’s last name.
The menu features several Greek specialties including the gyro and Souvlaki. The word gyro actually means round for the meat spinning around and around. However if you order a gyro in Greece, you will receive pork, not lamb or beef. The well known lamb/beef style gyro usually served in America originated in Turkey.
At Big Bitez if you order a gyro, you will get the lamb/beef combination, but if you order the Souvlaki you can try the pork. Just be aware that if you order Souvlaki in Greece, you will receive pork chunks on a skewer. A little Greek lesson from John Zaravelis, one of many he will bestow on you when you eat at the restaurant.
The menu also features pita sandwiches, salads, hamburgers and other traditional fare. The Tzatziki sauce, fresh and wonderful, is his mother’s recipe.
The restaurant is narrow but very open and light. There are Big Bitez T-shirts on the walls. Dimitri Zaravelis designed the logo. A large collage of photos from Greece hang in a corner showing azure blue skies and white sandy beaches. Customers order at the counter from a large board of choices and then can seat themselves.
Don Deese of Cornelius often eats at the restaurant and also works with John Zaravelis’ son Sammy.
“I like everything about it, except the owner,” Deese jokes. “Actually everything I’ve ever had here is great. And this is the only place I can walk into and get cursed out. It makes me feel at home.”
The restaurant does have a jovial, jokey, homey feel. John Zaravelis greets everyone by name or makes a new friend.
“You know, I arrived here from Greece in 1975,” said John Zaravelis. “When Charlotte was little.”
He makes the small sign with this fingers and laughs. Now the city is big and the Zaravelis family is starting to get big too. Stop by for some culture and a great gyro.
20430 W Catawba Ave., Cornelius