Visit Niko Niko’s in Montrose, order a Souvlaki sandwich, and situate yourself in the back-dining room; you will be sitting in Dimitri Fetokakis’ childhood home. He is the proprietor of the crowd-pleasing Niko Niko’s Greek & American Café, having taken over the family business at 25. He was heavily influenced by his parent’s altruistic nature, which engrained in him a solid sense of entrepreneurial responsibility. “When I took over Niko Niko’s, my parents were doing it before,” Dimitri says, “They were involved in the community, helping out in the community, they instilled that upon me, making sure we take care of the people that take care of us, and that you have an avenue to do something good.”
Since its origins in the 1970s, Niko Niko’s has attracted droves of Greek food fanatics. Once Dimitri became manager, he was irked by the poorly maintained public esplanade that faced his restaurant. Its bleak appearance was uninspired and a poor reflection of the colorful character of both the Montrose neighborhood and the restaurant. “I wanted to make it nice,” says Dimitri, equating the esplanade to someone’s front yard that greets customers into his home. True to his word, he tasked himself to gather the essential paperwork needed to begin the adopt-an-esplanade process.
The City of Houston’s Adopt-An-Esplanade program is designed for interested parties to revitalize public street medians to enhance their visual appeal. Adopters take on the responsibility of creating aesthetically appealing spaces, including design, plantings, watering, mowing, waste removal and long-term upkeep. Through the Adopt-An-Esplanade program, the city fosters a clear focus on neighborhood beautification. While the design and myriad of responsibilities will vary from one esplanade to the next, appropriate steps are encouraged: choosing a manageable project, meeting with an adopt-an-esplanade coordinator, and securing a local landscape architect. Dimitri recommends that adopters install an irrigation system to support year-round watering.
“We fixed it all up,” Dimitri says, referring to the initial teamwork involved in the esplanade’s makeover. “We installed the irrigation system, the electricity, and then we gave it back to the city. They take care of the water, we take care of everything else.” Day-to-day, Dimitri and a maintenance team are engaged with the detailing and fine tuning of the esplanade. Seasonal flowers blossom and fade, trees are trimmed and pruned, the irrigation system keeps the landscape quenched, and when Christmas approaches, festive lights signify the holidays are near. The hefty list of to-dos and continued involvement to sustain a manageable and aesthetically pleasing landscape might appear burdensome, but Dimitri thinks otherwise. “It’s not a burden at all because it’s something nice. It depends on how you look at it. It is expensive, but it’s in front of your door, it’s like your front lawn, so for me it’s not a burden.”
Your front lawn, or esplanade in this case, can be emblematic of its adopter and the community. “You make your neighborhood fun and you add character,” Dimitri says, “It’s a big deal. There are famous neighborhoods all over the world and it is stuff like this that makes them different.”
Dimitri hopes he can inspire others with the meticulous attention he puts into his esplanade. Dimitri is optimistic that neighboring businesses on the Montrose strip will follow suit, joining forces to adopt and enhance their own sections of the esplanade. Well-maintained esplanades are full of potential to boost economic redevelopment, while offering a pleasant display of community effort and pride. “l think it’s special to have nice surroundings around your restaurant and your business,” Dimitri says, “I think it’s important. It’s going to take some money out of your pocket, but your neighborhood and your sidewalk are going to be pretty.”
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