AP NEWS

Veteran stock trader traded careers to own Its Greek to Me restaurant

March 31, 2018 GMT

Nick Karos showed up at 6:30 every morning for 30 years at the stock-trading desk at Piper Jaffray and his own firm after he left Piper.

Nonstop days of phone and computer jockeying over trades for thousands to millions of dollars were interrupted only by chicken-sandwich lunches at the desk.

Karos was calm and decisive in a sometimes-frenetic trade in which deals sealed by the word of competing firm traders daily. He grew to be a millionaire, chief of Piper’s Nasdaq equity trading desk. And he burned out as automated decisionmaking and regulations eroded the profitability of the business and human interaction he loved.

“Before the business went all electronic, I didn’t sleep well at night because I couldn’t wait to get out of bed to get to work,” Karos recalled. “At the end, I couldn’t sleep well because I hated to go to work.

“There are [software] programs out there that monitor every business wire, and a company name comes up and the algorithm program triggers a trade. The margins are extremely thin. The risk-reward ratio is not what it once was.”

Sunday, Karos, 58, will show up at 5 a.m. at the two-year-old, low-pay job he loves. He will begin by placing a 55-pound lamb on the spit hours before his It’s Greek to Me restaurant opens for Easter brunch.

“It’s all a labor of love,” Karos said during a break a couple of weeks ago. “And we’ve got to get the lamb legs in the oven for Sunday brunch, too, and a lot of other things. It’s all about the food, the hospitality and treating the employees and the customers well.”

Nick and Athena Karos, his wife, bought the 37-year-old restaurant at Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue S. in 2016. The couple, who both have roots in the restaurant trade, always enjoyed patronizing It’s Greek to Me. They have invested “a few hundred thousand bucks,” including the acquisition, to spruce up the place and focus on Greek-Mediterranean specialties that have started to attract a younger crowd to the rebounding Lyn-Lake commercial hub.

“The business has grown every month,” Nick Karos said. “We’re here every day. We bought the restaurant from Aris Arambadjis. He worked six or seven days a week for 35 years. He still owns the building. He shows up all the time.”

Karos said virtually all of the food is made from scratch, save the pita bread and the feta cheese that is imported from a processing plant owned by cousins of Karos, near the village of Niata, south of Sparta and from where the Karos family hails. The olive oil is made from olive tree orchards owned by cousins of Athena’s.

“I love authentic food,” Karos said. “There are not a lot of ingredients in Greek food.”

Alex Karos, Nick’s grandfather, immigrated in the early 20th century and ran a family diner on Washington Avenue downtown. (Karos was shortened from “Karakatsanis” in America.) He died of a heart attack while pushing his car out of a snowbank in 1942. Nick’s dad, Peter “Zeus” Karos, took over the diner while still a student at Washburn High School and sold it while studying at the University of Minnesota. The late Zeus Karos was a community banker who switched to the securities trade, where he rose to be a trading executive at Piper.

Nick Karos, 58, learned cooking from his mother. She grew up in a restaurant-owning Greek family in Hibbing, Minn.

For years, Nick Karos has been head chef and bottle washer at the Taste of Greece, the annual festival at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in south Minneapolis. It raises thousands of dollars for the church and community charities.

“Nick’s always been comfortable cooking for family or for hundreds at the church,” said his brother, Paul Karos, a retired securities analyst and stock trader. “He’s always at the restaurant. He loves it.”

Nick and Athena Karos, a former Minneapolis Public Schools teacher, have three children, all of whom work part-time at the restaurant. Athena Karos is the daughter of the late restaurateur Jimmy Ginakes of Winnipeg. She grew up in the trade.

Nick Karos loves to mingle with customers and oversee the making of spanakopita (spinach pie), melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant spread), Mediterranean pilaf, seasonal vegetables, lamb and chicken prepared several Greek-traditional ways, and other dishes. The menu fits the health-oriented trends around heart-healthy oils, vegetables and fresh food.

The Lyn-Lake neighborhood, east of Uptown, is growing apartment buildings, independent businesses and “Greek”patrons. “Customers love to know the owner,’’ Nick Karos said. “And the restaurant business is a lot like trading used to be. Relationships. Trust. It’s all day long.

“And in this business, you can tell right away if they like the food. Instant gratification.”

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.