Kafeneion Ermis in Mytilini is one of the most historic and oldest cafes in Greece- with the antique décor and authentic vibe reflecting the traditional living history of the entire space.
Having first opened its doors in 1922 in Ali Agats (nowadays known as Aliağa) in Asia Minor, by the Spanoudakis family – during the Great Smyrna Catastrophe they took Turkish coffee from the bank as an exchangeable commodity and moved to Mytilini, where they opened Kafeneion Ermis. It quickly became a place that was visited by working-class people as well as great local, political figures of the time and artists including Theofilos and Stratis Myrivilis.
Today, a fourth generation of the Spanoudakis family has taken over the business, with Eirini Laskari (along with her mum Kyveli) returning to the island to continue her grandparent’s legacy.
We had the chance to chat with Eirini about Kafeneion Ermis and her love of keeping her family’s traditions alive.
How do you feel having taken over such a historic café?
I feel particularly lucky that this historic place landed in our hands. It is very moving to think that where I spend most of my day, generations back have, respectively, spent their days too. I can sense their existence in every detail and corner of the Kafeneion. The old floor with tiles that are well over 100 years old, the ceiling with the antique air ducts – everything inside this space reminds us of the past and instantly transfers visitors into another century! However, like any other business on the island, it takes lots of sacrifices and commitment to keep it going.
Describe a typical workday for you.
I start work at around 9 a.m., which is much better than the 4 a.m. that I was used to a few years back. First on our list is to order all the ingredients we need, and then we start to prepare the appetizers. In the morning we serve freshly baked Greek coffee, teas, homemade lemonade and spoon sweets. During lunchtime, we serve a range of dishes, ouzo and wine. In the afternoon some coffee and then more appetizers and ouzo during the evening.
What are your favourite appetizers on the menu?
All the meze recipes are from old Asia Minor, and they have been handed down to us from our grandmothers. Visitors must try the Smyrna meatballs, wine-braised octopus, cuttlefish with vinegar, giuslemedes (traditional cheese pies), zucchini flowers stuffed with rice or cheese, sougania (local onion dumplings), and last but not least the white beans and fava from peas – which may sound simple, but they are delicately prepared. Another hit is the imam bayildi with eggplants and the wine-braised spleen, which is one of my Grandfather’s recipes.
Do you still have well-known people visiting?
Over the years, we have hosted numerous cooking and travel shows from Greece and abroad. We have visitors from the entertainment world, artists, and political figures, who are either on holiday or on a business trip and come in to see us. It is a very famous café, mentioned throughout itineraries and travel books to Mytilini – not only because of its historic importance but also because our menu is truly unique and delicious.
Tell us about the products and ingredients used in your dishes.
Most of the ingredients we use in our kitchen are locally sourced. Our focus is on products that come from the island of Lesvos and the Aegean Sea, however, if there is a certain ingredient that we cannot find on the island then we source it from other parts of Greece. We strictly follow “seasonality”, and this is what gives variety and freshness to our dishes. “Everything in its time,” as Greeks say! That is why Lesvos must be seen and tasted, throughout all seasons of the year.
What other places would you highly recommend when visiting Lesvos?
It’s a big island and you will most certainly need a car to explore and see it all. The first city a visitor meets upon arriving on the island is Mytilini. Visit the famous 6th-century castle, perched on a steep hill – as it offers the best views of the city and harbour. Spend some time at the aristocratic Kioski neighbourhood located just below the castle, go for a stroll around the new and old port to admire the 40m tall dome of Agios Therapontos church and have a wander around the historic refugee neighbourhood of Epano Skala. Then, there is the Carsi Hamam, the Yeni Djami and Valide Mosque, the Ancient Theatre and the various archaeological sites that are scattered around the city. Other must-see places are the village of Petra- known for the church of Panagia Glikofilousa, the stone-built village of Molyvos with the magnificent castle, the healing springs of Eftalou, Sikaminia, Plomari, the Castle of Agioi Theodoroi (also known as Ovriokastro) on the peninsula of ancient Antissa and Sigri Park where you can see the Petrified Forest of Lesvos.
A: 2 Kornarou Street, Epano Skala, Mytilini