Taki Sawi Wins National American Dream Award

Santorini Greek Kitchen owner and chef, Taki Sawi, is being recognized by the National Restaurant Association with a 2010 American Dream Award as part of the Faces of Diversity program.  The award honors individuals from diverse backgrounds who have achieved the American dreams in the restaurant industry through their hard work and determination.

From the National Restaurant Association’s press release on Taki:

From the time Taki Sawi was 14, he knew he wanted to be a restaurateur. His parents had died, so he left Egypt to help support his sisters, nieces and nephews. He found a job as a dishwasher in a small restaurant in Amman, Jordan. The restaurant owner’s love for his work inspired young Sawi. "I wanted to be like him. He built this passion in my heart."

Over the next several years, Sawi moved from Jordan to Cyprus to Greece. Working seasonal restaurant jobs, he developed cooking experience, leadership skills and responsibility. In Cyprus, he waited tables at breakfast and lunch in one restaurant and dinner at another. In Santorini, Greece, he worked at one restaurant the entire season.

One day in 1997, a quiet, beautiful woman came to lunch by herself. Sawi talked with her for a while, then gave her his business card. He asked her to come back that night when he wasn’t as busy. To his surprise, she returned. Over the next several months, Jeanette Warholak kept in touch and visited several times.

The couple married in 1999, and Sawi moved to Indianapolis where Jeanette grew up. Sixth months later, he opened a 28-seat restaurant in a developing neighborhood. Business was so good that after two and a half years, he converted a larger, dilapidated building in the same neighborhood, expanding Santorini Greek Kitchen to 145 seats and 30 employees.

In Greece, Sawi had dreamed of opening his own restaurant. But he found more opportunity to do so in the United Sates. "When I left Egypt, I had a plastic bag filled with clothes and no money," he says. "I had no idea where life would take me. But I had passion and vision, and I prayed."

Says Sawi: "It’s a wonderful thing to accomplish what you have in your heart. And I did it here."

The other 2010 American Dream honorees are  Matilda and Joseph Novak, Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, Albany, Oregon; and Widjiono "Yono" Purnomo, Yono’s, of Albany, New York.  The Faces of Diversity program also recognized Sodexo, Inc. with its Inspiration Award for companies that have exhibited leadership and vision as an advocate of diversity and inclusion.