Aesop’s owner on the rise of Mediterranean food, quitting his job, and the challenges running a Greek Restaurant in Bangkok
Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.
Every Bangkok foodie has visited Aesop’s at least once before. What they might not know is that the owner is just as cool as his energetic, ouzo-fueled Greek restaurant. John Gamvros is a 38-year-old restaurateur who quit the corporate life to take on his family’s restaurant business. We spoke to him about his passion for Greek cuisine and his journey from the world of advertising to F&B.
It's all about the experience which, of course, includes great food and drinks but it's so much more than that. We pride ourselves on offering Greek hospitality—warm, down to earth and friendly—as well as creating an environment where customers can let their hair down a little. They can smash a plate, dance on the chairs, and sing their favorite songs out loud. That is what makes Aesop’s different and why customers choose to celebrate their special occasions with us.
It was a beautiful restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows. We commissioned an artist to paint a stunning mural of the Greek island my dad emigrated from, so it made you feel like you were in Santorini when you stepped inside. The food was much like what we serve today, with many recipes passed down from our yaya [grandmother in Greek]. The drinks reflected the times, with ‘90s favourites like the Midori Illusion and The Cosmopolitan, which aren’t on our menu anymore. Don’t tell dad, but some traditions are better left in the history books!
Not many actually. Providing authentic Greek food and a fun dining experience remain our key concepts—just like dad taught me all those years ago. The changes have been focused on modernizing the product. We have improved our cocktails and the way we present our food without messing with the recipes that have been in our family for generations.
Like all good Greek children, my sisters and I grew up working in a restaurant. As much as we hated it at the time, it somehow became part of our DNA. When dad retired a few years ago, it felt wrong for me to let the Aesop’s brand disappear. I was working for a big ad agency in Hong Kong and was feeling stifled by corporate life, so I packed my bags and moved to Thailand. Bangkok was always my favorite city, it has so much energy and has something for everyone. It also has a huge gap in terms of authentic Greek food, so it seemed like the obvious choice.
I have learned that the most successful brands are the ones that stay relevant, that means always innovating and never resting on your past successes. So I am always looking for new ways to excite our customers with food, drinks and entertainment. We also love collaborating with other F&B businesses for events and pop ups. F&B is a competitive industry but also surprisingly friendly.
The predictable answer would be finding good staff, which is always a challenge in any market and any industry. Another thing is keeping up with some of the paperwork—the number of signatures required can give you a very sore wrist.
Make sure you do it out of love, because the restaurant business requires a lot of time and personal engagement. If you love it, you'll dedicate the passion and time needed to become successful. If you don't, you'll likely burn out.
I can't go past moussaka (an eggplant based dish with ground lamb and tomatoes, topped with cheese). Whilst it can be time-consuming to prepare, it's worth the effort. The dish is so hearty and filling that you don't need any sides. It’s the ultimate Greek comfort food.
The first reason would be the growing popularity of Greece as a holiday destination. Secondly, there's no denying the saturation of French and Italian restaurants in Bangkok. Customers always want something different. Lastly, there is a growing awareness of the health benefits of the Greek diet.
Right now, I’m focusing on making this restaurant the best it can be. I want to see my customers happy and returning to us time and time again. We will continue to host parties like our Mamma Mia nights, Pool Parties and Disco nights. Who knows, if the right opportunity arises maybe we’ll open in another part of town. For now, we’ll just keep smashing it in Saladaeng!