Stavros talks about the old stable he turned into a famous tavern in Omodos village!

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Though it may be 11 years since he launched his business, Stavros still finds himself with not a moment to rest. His mobile phone is constantly ringing, with people calling him for a reservation at either the ‘Kyr Yianni’ tavern or the apartments available for rent in Omodos village. The tavern has some serious fans now, thousands of guests from both Cyprus and abroad, who arrive in the village, even just for the delicious dishes of the tavern, the entertainment and the warm hospitality they receive there. In fact, the love of these people has helped the business during the recession that hit the island hard in 2013.

Still, this succesful course had a rough beginning. From the time Stavros put his mind to making his dream a reality, it was a long road to get to where he is today. And though not many believed in him at the beginning, his perseverance and faith, along with his wish to see this business grow, are what led him to where he is today. The business, called ‘Kyr Yiannii’s Farm’, has drastically changed Stavros’ life since its inception in 2007, but most importantly, it has changed a lot of things in the village, too. Omodos has always been a popular destination, thanks to its ancient monastery and the square in front of it, but now it is a model of tourist development in the Limassol countryside. The opening of the tavern and the apartments of ‘Kyr Yianni’ has provided an additional reason for visitors make their way around the picturesque alleys of Omodos, becoming acquainted with the true nature of the village, as well as its residents’ hospitality and traditions.

More and more dining and accommodation options are becoming available in Omodos, as are more and more activities and entertainment options. The most important aspect of this trajectory, of course, is the opportunities that this opens up for the future. Stavros made a personal bet 10+ years ago, which proved to be a crucial turning point for the future of the village. His story so far, as narrated to All About Limassol (the Official Source for the Promotion of Limassol), proves that sometimes, one just needs to be brave enough to make a new beginning.

Back to the village

Stavros was born in Omodos at a time when it was truly hard for a young man to see himself making a living in the village. Upon his graduation from school, he knew his path would lead him far from this small community in the Limassol mountains, with its narrow alleys and humble homes. However, as is well known, when people make plans, fate decides otherwise. Coming from a poor family, he decided to make his own fate by studying Business Administration in Vienna, while working at a Greek tavern in the capital of Austria (as a waiter and a folklore dancer) to pay his bills. When the job proved to be too time-consuming, preventing him from studying, he returned to Nicosia to finish his sudies at a private college. When he finished, he followed a career in insurances. Still, in Stavros’ case, the best decision he made as an adult appears to be the one that eventually brought him back to the village.

If ou happen to pass by the alley of the tavern, you will probably find him at the white, wooden table, outside the wine shop, with his coffee and pipe, greeting people with a smile on his face. 

A middle-aged man already, with a wife and children, he knew that he was risking a lot by choosing as his permanent residence a village 40 minutes away from Limassol, and without any significant development or professional prospects. What he was leaving behind, however, was a life in the city, full of stress and anxiety, and a job at an insurance company which had been shaken after a scandal involving insurance deposits used to buy shares on the stock exchange. Life in the village was thus an enticing option at the time.

One could imagine that living in a village is an idyllic montage of waking up early in the fresh air, close to the nature, eating traditional food made of fresh ingredients etc. In reality, until they could see their idea for an agrotourism unit come to fruition, Stavros and his family underwent a series of hardships in order to rebuild their lives from scratch, away from the city’s amenities.

The vineyard was the main occupation for Stavros in 2003, when he first returned to Omodos. When he realized that his income from this would be minimal, he decided to plant new varieties (like cabernet and shiraz), turning to funding from the EU. “People would make fun of me then, saying that I did not know what I was doing and that I would fail, because not many people were familiar with cabernet or shiraz back then”. Now, his vineyard produces a popular range of wines.

With his sole source of income being the vineyard (inherited from Mr. Yiannis, father of Stavros), his 4-member family often found themselves living in cramped quarters, staying in the small room of the restored former family stable (where the tavern is now located) as Stavros made various attempts to make a living (which included a mini market and even a souvenir shop), in the hope that his wife and daughters would not have to spend any more time in a 30-square meter room. It soon became clear that the agricultural activities and the small shop did not offer much in the way of a future for them. This was when Stavros and his wife decided that making a brave big step would be the only way for them to properly support their children in the future.

The stable that became the first agrotourism establishment in Cyprus

Soon, it was clear that the vineyard and the mini market would absorb more time than what they gave back in income, which made it impossible for a proper living for the family. Then, Stavros and his wife, Meropi, though that they should risk something new, as the only way to reassure the well-being of the children, both their 2 girls, Maria - Chara and Stavriana, and the third daughter of Stavros from a previous marriage, Georgia.

“We knew that living in the village would allow us a quality of life. Still, we were also aware that many things would be different and maybe even hard: from making a living to just the fact that the kids had to go all the way to Platres when they first started school”.

At that point, the idea for the agrotourism business was born. “The restored stable was relatively small. There was merely room for 4 large containers of grapes that we would use to make zivania through distillation, and 2 donkeys that would be the means of transportation for all the produce of our vineyard,” Stavros says. “We used to sit on the balcony and observe the nearby buildings, all ruined and abandoned, and we thought that this could be a useful extension that would allow us to create something good in space. This is how the idea of a tourist unit came about.”

"If my wife had not followed me and supported me in this whole venture, nothing would have had been possible. And it was not an easy thing for her to do, because she was raised in Nicosia and the environment of a village was completely different to what she was used to,” Stavros admits.

From that point onwards, everything was moving on track, albeit a track that was neither laid with rose petals, nor without risks and setbacks. Stavros did manage to contact the owners of the nearby buildings and convince them to sell the property, but the funding was the greatest issue he had to resolve.

Always restless and resourceful, full of courage and with a decisive spirit, he made sure he knew all the details of the funding options that the EU was offering for agrotourism businesses, before jumping into anything. He discovered that his venture could be granted funding of up to 50% from the EU, so he went out in search of the other 50%, an amount of more than 360,000 pounds.

“In the end, apart from my wife and the Cyprus Development Bank, which gave me the loan (after I was rejected by the Bank of Cyprus and Laiki Bank), no one else believed in this idea. Even my parents found it hard to believe and they thought I was wasting my money and heading straight for ruination.”

Did you have any idea of how the tourism industry worked before?
No, apart from the jobs as a waiter in Vienna, where I was studying, and in Nicosia, I had no other experience. But, I think that I have good communication skills, I am a people’s person and this is probably what made me good at insurance sales, too. I had confidence in myself, I did my research, but I knew I was taking a large risk, which would either succeed, or leave me no other choice but to become a simple clerk at any random job.

Previously being at a job associated with the scandal with insurance money illegally invested in the stock market, wasn't a reason for people to resent you?
Indeed. Some of the company's clients would even threaten me personally. It was a rough period and it was also one of the reasons I decided to leave that life behind forever. Still, after going to the court house to testify in favor of the clients who sued the company for taking their money, and being clean myself on the first place, I managed to restore my name.

"The application we submitted to the Urban Planning Authority to grant us the permission for this project, was the first of its kind in Cyprus".

What we started in 2007 was something new. People would visit the village, but they would stay in the square, see the monastery, and leave. There were some taverns, but they were all outside the village. This is why the tavern and the apartments were considered an important step towards the development of the village as a whole.

I had a complete idea of the project in my mind, just as it looks today. Wooden shutters and doors, both painted green, white wooden tables and chairs in the tavern etc. Still, these elements were not considered fully traditional by the Authority, which resulted in a decrease of the funding I was expecting from the EU. Eventually, I only got 70.000 pounds, out of the 360.000 I was expecting and I had to turn to the Cyprus Development Bank once again, for an additional loan, which amounted to a total of €1,000,000 for me to repay.

When was the project completed?
We began working on the idea in 2003, and it eventually opened in 2008.

Stavros 10+ years ago, at the familiar setting of 'Kyr Yianni', when the tavern had just opened its doors and made the first steps towards its future. 

Did things look promising for this business from the start?
The beginning was rough. People would visit the square and then leave. Gradually, some would start visiting the tavern on Saturdays and Sundays, walking the few meters from the square to our alley. After 1.5 years, we had some regulars. Still, the daily expenses and the monthly payments for the loan were larger than what we were making in the tavern, so I would do other jobs from time to time, mainly manual labor, such as helping a friend paint a house, and other similar tasks. Nevertheless, the feedback we received from people who visited the tavern was very encouraging.

Even if they were just passing by, everyone would express their enthusiasm for how beautiful the shop had become. This was probably crucial for the course of the business in the future, because after the third year, there was a radical increase in the number of visitors: 1 happy customer would bring back 10 more, and 10 of them would bring back 100 more.

Were the apartments a part of your business from the beginning?
The 2 studios located above the tavern were built from the start. However, as the guests increased in number, more and more people would ask for a place to spend the night after visiting the tavern, so we had to look for more accommodation options. We rented restored houses in the village, which was beneficial for their owners, too, as the money would help them with repaying the loans they had made to restore them. The amount we pay in rent is considerable, as we now offer a total of 11 rooms to overnight guests.

There are 13 agrotourit units in total, run by Stavros today, some smaller, others larger, either studios or mansions, which can cover any need or preference.

Doesn’t all this effort and risk stress you out?
Of course it does. I am always stressed, but I knew this when I was getting into this kind of business. Of course, everything is possible with the right organization and scheduling. I have always believed that. And, since we have a great team here at ‘Kyr Yianni,’ with people with whom I work well, we are able to make this happen.

“Gabi, the tavern manager, has been with me for 10 years. Both our chefs, who are now a couple and for whom I was the best man at their wedding, are among the people who worked with me since the very beginning in 2007,”, Stavros says.

Even if we see a complaint on TripAdvisor, for example, we all gather together to discuss the issue, understand why it occurred, and how we can fix it. All the guys in the team care about the tavern and they feel just as bad about complaints, because they consider this business as much their own as I do. I invested a great deal of time talking with them, ensuring that that they share my vision and goals, so that I knew we were all heading in the same direction.

He has developed close, family ties with his staff, because these are the people with whom he shares the success of his business. He wanted to have people who would share his vision and he made sure that they were able to follow him down this path, even if this meant helping them with their appearance to ensure that they were more confident and able to respond to the demands of their work.

Beyond understanding and acknowledging the mistake, of course, we also offer the dissatisfied customer the opportunity to see for themselves that the incident they complained about was simply an unfortunate moment, by offering them a complimentary visit. I like to be able to offer something complimentary to all of our guests, be it a bottle of wine or dessert. This is an important aspect of proper hospitality and communication with people. This is, in large part, a reason for our success, because the guest knows that you don’t simply view them as a wallet. I like receiving this kind of service myself when I visit a place, and I want people to experience this in my restaurant too. Music and food can be found anywhere, but it’s the people that make all the difference.

The phone is the extension of his hand, an time and any day. From the beginning, he was in charge of the communication with people and has been dealing with the reservations ever since. He does not want this to change, because the humane contact is what makes his work stand out.

Do you have time to take care of yourself with all this stress?
I do not take particular care of myself, to be honest. I should do so, especially the years go by. Fortunately, I have not had any severe, permanent health issues, but I did have a rather critical condition 3 years ago, which left me in a coma for 2 weeks after suffering from atypical pneumonia.

I had been working in the vineyard at the time, in the rain, and then I returned straight to the tavern, feeling slightly cold and with a cough. Within 3 days this developed into a very severe condition with a high fever that kept me in the ICU. I was 1 step from death, and when I recovered, I had to learn how to walk all over again.

Is this job worth all the stress, and is it rewarding?
My job feels like my outing. I have fun when I am working, despite all the stress that comes with it, which is always there until 10pm, when most guests leave. I like meeting people, welcoming them to the tavern, stopping by their table and talking to them, checking if they would like anything else. I cannot imagine myself not doing this at any point in my life.

Left: The terrace of the apartment above the tavern in 2004, where Stavros and his family stayed in the begining, after returning to Omodos. Right: In 2018, the entrance of this same terrace, which leads to 2 of the 13 guest houses, show how much has the image of this place improved.

What is your greatest weakness?
I am very stressful, and this stress affects me very much when there is tension at work. I have not managed to control this and it keeps building up inside me as the years go by, which will inevitably lead to an outburst at some point. I do manage to keep calm, though. These past few years, in fact, I have been taking some herbal pills that help with my nerves, so that I can keep calm even during the most stressful times.

So, no matter what happens, you will never hear me shout. And if I hear someone else shouting, I will intervene to make it stop.

Have you ever found yourself out of control?
It happened only once, when we first opened the tavern. We had a musician who was probably using drugs. One evening, after he had also drank zivania, I noticed that he was pushing a guest every time he passed through the tables. I went close to him and asked him to take his money and leave. He then reacted very badly, and threated to harm both me and my family. It was then that I snapped. I attacked and hit him, and fortunately, we were far from the restaurant and the guests. This is not how I usually react. I only had this kind of outburst 4 times in my life.

He dared, he dreamed, he planned and hi risked and he only had a wife to believe in him and confidence to his own strength. Apart from some seminars, he never had any special education in hospitality, but he found out that his talent in communicating with people was a natural gift that covered the lack in training.

Do you have any regrets?
Looking at my daughters now, aged 14 – 15 years old, I realize that I missed a lot of what I could have experienced with them. I regret the time I lost, but I had to do what I had to do, mostly to provide for them. I wanted them to have everything that I had been deprived of, even though I try to keep a balance, in order not to spoil them. When I feel the need to teach them some lessons, I may become more strict and firm. Of course, if I had more time with them, I could have shared these lessons more easily, but even so, they always listen, and they are good and thoughtful kids.

After all, they did grow up in the village, they are used to walking in the streets and greeting everyone they meet.

They will happily jump in the back of the truck when we visit the vineyard, just like anyone. Still, we also love to spend time in Limassol, to enjoy the leisure and the cosmopolitan vibes of the city, having a coffee by the beach or a sushi dinner. We all enjoy the simplicity of the village as much as the leisure in the city, because this allows a unique balance in our lives.

“Mr Yiannis, my father, was a strict man when we were growing up. He would hit us regularly, for anything from not going to work in the vineyard or for looking him in the eye when he was scolding us. My mother would try to protect us but she was not strong enough. I think that if we were not so poor, my father would have been a different man”.

So, you are a part of the local society for good now.
Of course. The quiet, simple life, the close contact with people, was always something we wanted when we decided to move back to Omodos. Sure, there are still some things that I personally choose not to accept. I do not like gossiping, for example, which is very common for people in such a small community. This is probably why I do not sit at the traditional coffee shop, either. I much prefer to have my coffee out here, in the alley in front of the tavern.

Was the village's environment supportive to your efforts?
The Local Authorities had an important role in the whole process. The head of the Community Council himself, who understands that our efforts have a positive impact for the village, helps as much as he is allowed to. Still, there is always the need for improvement, especially in what concerns the image of the square.

Born on September 14, Stavros celebrates with the monastery that made his village famous, as well as with his yougest daughter, Stavriana, who shares the same birthday as her father. 

People keep passing by the alley where the tavern is located in Omodos village now, even though it used to be a very lonely place. Now traffic won’t stop, no matter the day or time. Stavros, deliberately or not, has changed the image of the village for good, creating something that has been the kick-start for others to follow his example. People who oppose these efforts will always exist, especially in such a small place, where jealousy and negativity may flourish.

But, there are also people like Pambis, who opened the tavern ‘Katoi’, a few meters away from Stavros’ tavern. Even though some would expect these 2 businessmen to be competitors, in fact they are very close, as they share the same views about one man’s success being an opportunity for another. Thanks to such people, with this way of thinking and this amount of courage and strength, so that they can overcome any obstacles, the little village of Omodos has become an example of progress, both in the countryside and the city of Limassol.

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