By Janee Law
Huntington residents Penny and Ronald Hannington have been dining at Mediterranean Snack Bar in the village for nearly 30 years.
Ronald recalled how the eatery’s reputation for serving up quality, fresh seafood typically produced a sprawling line of hungry customers out the door and down New York Avenue.
Whenever that was the case, Ronald said, snack bar owner Steve Soulellis would have around a gallon’s worth of white or red wine to pass out to customers as they waited.
That type of customer service, along with his tasty Greek dishes, have made Soulellis a popular figure in the village, so much so that he’s enjoyed nearly 43 years of business at the 360 New York Ave. snack bar.
But Soulellis said, it’s time to rest; he’s set to close the snack bar’s doors for the final time this Saturday.
Earlier this week, many hungry customers stopped by Mediterranean Snack Bar for one last meal.
Although they will miss the food, Penny said, she and her husband are glad to see Soulellis will have some time to rest.
Some customers came from out-of-state to visit the snack bar one last time, including brothers Jimmy and Gerrit Tichelaar, who grew up in Oyster Bay, but now live in Boston. They made the thrip this past Tuesday night and enjoyed the flounder special.
Gerrit said, “We’re sad to see him close.”
But, Jimmy added, “We’re glad he’ll be enjoying the rest of his life.”
The Tichelaars were joined by other family members, including Gerrit’s daughter, Kerry Hotine, who lives in Huntington.
She said the family is going to miss the snack bar’s fresh, delicious food.
Eric Kave, a longtime customer of the snack bar, and real estate broker working with Soulellis and an unnamed party on a sale of the 2,000-square-foot restaurant, said he’s been eating at the restaurant ever since he moved to Huntington in 1978.
“I never cooked, so I used to eat there sometimes twice a day for lunch and dinner,” Kave said, adding that he ate his first souvlaki at the snack bar. “It’s more than just consistently great food, it’s part of the fabric of Huntington.”
Kave, of KWM Properties, is working on the deal with his associate Kyle Margolin. He expects the new owner will look to open a restaurant in the space.
“It’s sad to see the ‘Med’ go, but we’re happy to be able to help Steve move on to the next stage of his life, and that he will be able to get the benefit of his life’s work,” Kave added.
Soulellis, of Huntington Bay, first opened Mediterranean Snack Bar in January 1975.
Before that though, he left his home island of Lesvos, Greece, as a 16-year-old and took up a job as a merchant marine engineer for a Greek tycoon oil tanker company, a job that eventually took him to New York.
In 1963 at 20 years old, Soulellis found his forever home in Huntington and began working his way up the chain in the food industry.
Soulellis landed his first job in the industry with the former Colonial Diner in Huntington Station, where he started as a dishwasher. He later moved up to cook, chef and then management positions.
By then, Soulellis said, he had enough knowledge and experience to open a restaurant of his own.
At the time Huntington village was known for American cuisine, but Soulellis said he wanted to bring about some change. Although many doubted his business model that focused on Greek cuisine, Soulellis said, he decided to take a chance.
Business started out a little slow, but when summer 1975 rolled around, so did the customers, Soulellis said.
From there, the snack bar continued to grow and eventually expanded in 1995.
One of the hooks that kept customers coming back, was Soulellis’ recipes, many of which he learned from his mother, who used to cook every day when he was a child. Soulellis added that his parents moved to Huntington when he first opened the snack bar and helped him perfect the recipes that would become snack bar staples.
While retirement is now approaching, Soulellis said it doesn’t mean he’ll be stepping out of the kitchen forever.
“I always loved to cook and I still do,” he said. “Now that I’m retiring, cooking in my house will be my number one priority.”
He also plans to spend time fishing, gardening and with his family, including his wife, two children and four grandchildren.
Now 74 years old, and with just about 43 years of servicing the Huntington village community, Soulellis said, it’s time for rest — both for him and the Mediterranean Snack Bar brand. He’s opted not to sell the business itself, he said, in order to preserve its legacy the way customers remember it.
“My experience was amazing. I loved it, learned a lot and I made unlimited friends,” Soulellis said. “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change anything.
“Huntington has been an amazing supporter of the Mediterranean Snack Bar.”
Some, however, aren’t completely ready to part with restaurant’s dishes. Soulellis said many customers have asked him to write a cookbook.
With a smile and laugh, he said, “If I think it’s a good idea to write something, then I may consider to do that.”