Georgios Vogiatzis is on the phone with farmers in Greece on a daily basis, telling them how he wants his vegetables sourced and when he needs a new shipment of feta cheese. It's how he ensures quality ingredients at Santorini by Georgios, a new Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner he opened in Miami Beach in 2015.
Born on the small island of Thassos in northern Greece, Vogiatzis started working in restaurants at a young age and eventually moved to Munich to help his father run a Greek restaurant business. "I started by peeling onions and crying a lot," Vogiatzis laughs. "As a Greek family, the kids are always a part of the family business."
Many years later, Vogiatzis runs Santorini by Georgios with his family, including brother and beverage director Saki Vogiatzis and son-in-law and director of operations Yanis Mazouz. The South Beach spot, in the SoFi neighborhood, evokes the Greek island with seascapes painted on the walls and a Mediterranean decor highlighted by light wood accents, crisp whites and sea blues. Conveniently connected to the Hilton Bentley South Beach, the restaurant takes advantage of a large outdoor poolside area for additional seating.
The menu intermingles Greek classics—including an array of dips, Greek cheeses, keftedes in tomato sauce, grilled chicken kebabs, lamb gyro and lots of seafood—with Italian, Florida and Latin American influences that show up in dishes such as a fusion moussaka, Key West shrimp with tomato confit, a Cubano salad with mango and grilled steak with tzatziki and chimichurri.
While many restaurants have a high turnover rate, Vogiatzis is proud of the many chefs and waiters who have been with the team since the start. As locals account for 60 percent of Santorini's sales, he adds, "It's very important for the customers to see the same faces." Vogiatzis was lucky to have cash reserves when the pandemic first hit to help support his employees through closures.
Before March 2020, Santorini's wine selection was only two to three pages long. Now, it's 25 pages and growing, with 6,000 bottles in inventory, and there’s an extremely popular happy hour with wine for $7 a glass and appetizers as little as $5. “There's been exponential growth in general for restaurants in Miami,” Yanis Mazouz said. “Our wine sales have been growing higher than our food and liquor sales because the scene is getting better, but we are also pushing it more with our broader range of wines."
The now 260-wine list, with nearly 50 wines by the glass and bottles starting at $40, mingles numerous warm-weather picks such as sparkling wines, rosés, Chablis and Northern Italy whites with collectibles like 2018 Opus One, 2018 Joseph Phelps Insignia and 2000 Krug Champagne. There are also Burgundy whites, California Chardonnays, a selection of U.S. Pinot Noirs and more, along with a dozen half-bottles and a few rare selections from Armenia and the country of Georgia. But the restaurant's biggest strength is Greek wines, with a mix of international and native red and white varieties such as Agiorgitikio, Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Moschofilero and Xinomavro. "We have a big variety of wines and focus on setting different price ranges for our customers in order to deliver the whole package," Saki Vogiatzis said.
Along with its wine list, Georgios is serious about supporting local charities and organizations, donating catering services to the Miami Beach Police Department, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami and the Miami Beach School District, among others. "We believe that the future depends on education," Vogiatzis said. "We have families, we have kids, we have grandkids, and I believe it's important to support charitable education."