Yiannis Antoniadis: The owner of Guaba tells all in his first interview!

07/09/2017
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He sits a large, leather armchair, a recent addition to the furniture at Guaba, but he couldn’t settle down; it was as if something was constantly itching him throughout the interview. "My mother would always tell me that ever since I was a child, i couldn't sit still," he admits. Indeed, it is his energy that is the driving force behind everything that he attempts. Even if something doesn’t match perfectly with his personal tastes, if he happens to feel passionate and strongly about it, he can still make it work. 

He was born to parents who were in their 20s and still undergoing their studies in England (after a night of fun, he cracks, smiling and always up for a quick joke). He first came into the world in a foreign country, but soon returned to Limassol, where spent his early years. Yiannis Antoniadis, a child of youthful passion, would inevitably turn out to be a man passionate with everything he does. This is why everything you see, taste, and experience at Guaba is of excellent quality and with strong attention to detail. And it is why Guaba is more than just another beach bar, but rather in the top 20 listings of the best beach bars and clubs around the world. 

Today, the business has branched out widely, offering a shop selling Guaba products at the bar, and support to sports groups and underprivileged social groups, among other things. Of course, 2 decades ago, when he was simply organizing small beach parties for his friends while working at his mother's shop on Anexartisias Street, Antonis could not have imagined where his constant need to create something new would lead him. 

"I was selling clothes and shoes, and because I was already well-known in that area, when I began working at the store, we made record sales," says the man who is a restless teenager at heart, and this is one of the few moments throughout our entire conversation when he speaks with pride about one of his achievements.

We didn't set out to create a globally recognized brand. But we put our souls into everything we did, and this is what made it stand out.

People love him and he is happy to be the recipient of this love. "We never deceived anybody. That's why they love us," he says, avoiding to use the word 'me' when talking about himself. "Of course, there are people who dislike us too. If no one dislikes you, then you're probably doing something wrong. We like to talk to people, though," he explains, attributing the good relationships that he develops with those around him to his human and personal contact.

The beginning of Guaba 12 years ago as Yiannis remembers it, as not a day has gone by…

"At some point, the local authorities began announcing bids for community kiosks on the beach. In Agios Tychonas, there was one that was in the middle of nowhere. I made a small offer then, as much as I could afford, with a rent of less than 1000 pounds per month. At the time, there weren't even roads to get there. In fact, there wasn't even a beach, it was just an area filled with rocks. I was the only person who had made an offer for this particular kiosk. Proud and excited, I took my mother there to show her the place, with an exact idea in my head as to how I would set up the events I was planning to host there. She looked at me like I was crazy and asked me "who on earth will come find you here?"

People literally fought for this place, it was something of a revolution. People believed in what Guaba represented, and what is still our motto today: Just be yourself and wake up your weird. 

"The name was an invention of mine. I wrote down some names, some random syllables, and it came out at some point. I asked my lawyer to register it and so it started. At the age of 27, I worked at the bar as an one-man show. The beer barrels would open one by one , and night, I would sleep there, on a mattress inside the bar. This was how Guaba began: with a barrel of beer served through the small window of the hut, with music playing from a small radio - which the authorities ended up confiscating. With all the money coming in, I made small renovations, we put up tents, a few chairs and loungers, and then music also became a regular part of the entertainment."

Yiannis 12 years ago, in front of the community facilities at Agios Tychonas beach, where Guaba Beach Bar first started.

"It started out wtih friends, and groups who loved the place, and then people started visiting us in hordes. They would come in the morning and knock on the window, and I would wake up, take a dip in sea, and start serving. The beach itself began to change, to take on a character of its own. And then, jealousy set in, mainly from people who had seen change instigated by a young man whom they had never taken into account before. Thus, in 2007, the war began. There were many incidents where they came after us, put us in custody, took our speakers like we were common criminals. To a point, it could have been justified, seeing as how there was a radical change in the area and some people may have been displeased, but I think the authorities pushed things too far at the time. I was younger at the time too, and I would clash with them myself. I don't have any hard feelings, of course, even though there were times I would have 800-900 customers at the bar and I wouldn't have speakers or a way to serve them."

It was as if everyone was in deep hibernation before Guaba. They would either stay at home, or they would go out somewhere and not be themselves. 

"All we wanted to do was to offer a new kind of beachside entertainment that didn’t exist in Limassol at the time, while following a value for money concept. In the end, the war we were subjected to resulted in people coming even closer to Guaba. The people literally fought for this place, it was something like a revolution. People believed in what Guaba represented, and what is still our motto today: Just be yourself and wake up your weird. In this alternative bar, they found a place that felt like home, where they didn't need to wear a suit or drive an expensive car to go for a night out. It was as if everyone was in deep hibernation mode before Guaba: they would either stay at home, or they would go out somewhere and not be themselves. I got the feeling that people wanted to be relaxed in order to have fun. 

Guaba when it first began , when it was just a hut on the beach, with which people felt a connection from the very start.

"In 2008 (3 years after the beginning) we had to renew our contract with the Community Council. Eventually, the local authorities re-launched the bid to raise the amount for the agreement. The offer we submitted was better than the one the Council ended up choosing, but we were rejected with the excuse that the bid wasn’t signed on 1 page. So, we left Agios Tychonas and I hope to never return there. We were literally thrown out from Agios Tychonas. We loaded all our stuff in a truck and we left. These things are not easily forgotten, though I don’t want to talk about what happened then."

We set everything up slowly, using the financial means we had at our disposal, without any loans or irrational expenses. This is what I say to anyone who is starting something new: invest as much as your budget allows you to. If you start out with a large debt, how will you cope later? 

"We had to move in a month. I was under a lot of pressure, but I find that making decisions fast and moving quickly tends to help. We were constantly on the lookout for a new location. If I didn't find a space, I would have closed this bar and opened up another. No matter what, I wouldn't have given up. I knew that the owners of the space in which we are today were looking to rent it out. It had been an entertainment venue before, but the owners themselves had families and did not want to carry on the business. The amount that I would have given to the Agios Tychonas bid was what I paid to rent this space, which is enormous compared to that small kiosk. We armed ourselves with brushes, as the venue was completely white, and went to work, changing it radically. We gathered up about 50 friends and achieved the impossible. In the end, change turned out to be for the best. 

The clown, the mascot of Guaba, had already made his appearance at some events at the old beach bar, like a kind of weird guest among the rest of the party people, and he slowly evolved into a representative figure. 

The backstory: "People knew me through events' planning"

How you become involved with this sector?
From the time I was a student, I became involved with setting up smaller events. I actually studied Events Planning in England. The Beer Festival that we organized, under the auspices of the Limassol Municipality, was the first major event in which I was involved. Every year, the Festival would be bigger than the previous year, but in order for it to grow to its full potential, it needed sponsors that didn’t exist at that time. I developed it for 3 years, but after that I couldn’t do it alone, so I stopped.

Did you ever expect that you would be the owner of a place recognized as a global brand?
That was not something we were aiming for. But we put our soul in everything that we did, and this is what made it stand out. As soon as I came back from my studies, my friend and best man Yiotis, who would later go on to start Street Life Festival, and I told Mayor Demetris Kontides that we wanted to organize a Beer Festival in Limassol. It was a huge event for the city, and the first of its kind, with free entrance, and it would attracted 10,000 people each night. So, from early on, I began setting up major events and I wanted them to grow as much as possible. 

Cypriot athlete Marios Georgiou was wearing Guaba t-shirt at the Olympic Village in Rio, and people would approach him and hug him for Guaba. That is when it hit me that we really did accomplish something.

Was the UK a factor in your decision to become involved in this industry?
During my time in the UK, there were major changes to in the music scene. We attended events and festivals and seeing DJs that no one had heard of in Cyprus. At the time, there were major developments in electronic music, where DJs were no longer confined to their little boots but rather took center stage at parties. I was there, I saw it begin, I saw music transition from rock to electronic, and it was a unique experience. 

It was very impressive, and I wanted to bring this kind of entertainment to Cyprus by organizing various events, in Pissouri, at Governor's beach, at the COT beach in Dasoudi. I was only 22 at the time. We didn’t have Facebook or anything else. We could only advertise through the phone and through flyers in order to inform people. I remember that the event at the COT was amazing. It was the first event with local DJs and a lot of people came.

Guaba is not just a job for Yiannis. The excitement, the love, and the pride he feels for the place are apparent in the way he talks about it, and this proves that Guaba is, in a way, something like family, his 'baby.'

So, music is important to you?
Yes, definitely. I listen to music all the time, from the time I was a rock fan to today. People are also an important factor. I like to be around people. After all, the very first events we organized were just friends hanging out on a beach with a generator. We then realized that people liked this, and we made it bigger. 

So, that’s how people got to know you.
Yes, that was my job. People knew me through the events' planning.

Was it something you chose because you enjoyed nightlife?
I didn't go out much when I was in school. The idea of going out at night didn't excite me. I was more into sports.

There were many incidents where they came after us, put us in custody, took our speakers like we were common criminals. Of course, I harbor any grudges…

Who supported you when you become involved in this?
There were many people, people with whom I had developed good relationships. The Lanitis Bros company helped me, as did Mike Spanos did too, with marketing budgets. But more than anyone else, it was my family who helped me, with my parents and childhood friends as my biggest supporters. 

Did you have anyone to provide business guidance?
Not exactly. Of course, my grandfather, the late Yiangos Pentaliotis, did open his own shoe shop, after he left school at the age of 10 to work as a shoemaker. He was especially loved by the people,  and was also known in Limassol as a winter swimmer. He had 150 godchildren in Limassol. You know, when people who were once poor manage to secure themselves financially, they are very generous. My father, Neoklis, owns Leatherex, which was a shoe factory. It is one of the few companies in the industry that didn’t go bankrupt. They managed to set up their business well, with exports to various markets and other activities.

I wanted to introduce a different kind of entertainment in Cyprus. I was only 22 at the time. We didn’t have Facebook or anything else. We could only advertise through the phone and through flyers in order to inform people. 

Ever since I was a child, I have worked at various jobs. I was always doing something in the summer. I carried grapes during the harvest for my grandfather, Yiannakis Antoniades, who was in the grape trade, and I was a beach boy at the Four Seasons, when I was very young, I also worked in my mother's shop and I was very good at sales. If I have a child in the future, I make sure he or she works, even if it's on their computer. This is how you learn, this is how learn how money is earned. Today, I see young people coming here to work and it's like they're being forced to do it.  I do like having Cypriot people working here, if they are good enough of course. But, to tell the truth, Europeans are better at it because they are in need and because they don’t have the security of a home, of a family that will take care of them.

"Whatever we did, put our soul into it, and that was what made it stand out"

Everyone knows Guaba: young and old, people from the hood, people of high society, everyone. What does this mean to you?
I know that people are talking about Guaba. They say good things and bad things. However there is no such thing as bad publicity. Of course, we believe that we're only just starting out, no matter how much we've achieved. Once the season is over, we begin setting everything up from the beginning. If you ask people who are powerful and important what they have achieved, they will say nothing. The ones who talk incessantly about their success are the ones who haven't actually done much. We are in the process of setting up something with a great deal of passion, and this is a prerequisite for anyone who wants to work at Guaba. This passion, along with our vision, are the key ingredients to our success.

The power of the business is the name Guaba, the brand name. We are the beach bar whose name has been most frequently tattooed on peoples' bodies around the world. 

Doesn’t the magnitude of what you have achieved so far count?
I will tell you when I actually realized how big it got. It was when we supported Marios Georgiou, the Cypriot gymnast who competed in the Rio Olympics. He had no help from anywhere, and we truly believed in his strengths. He is just 18 years old, and a real gem. He was wearing a Guaba t-shirt at the Olympic village, and people would approach him and hug him for Guaba. He came and told me this with such great joy, and this is when it hit me that we really did accomplish something (he laughs, as he does with everyone, spreading positive energy all around him). 

At that time, I was at a huge festival in Belgium, Tomorrowland, one of the biggest in the world. Friends had invited us and we were in the area where the DJs and their managers were sitting. They knew Guaba and would come over to me to talk future business and to book performances at the beach bar. Well, I can say that that moment felt pretty satisfying. 

Did you ever expect that this place would be what it is today?
The first summer in the new place in 2009 was a revelatory one. Leaving Agios Tychonas, we didn’t even have the equipment we needed. But came in droves, and some nights we would have 1000 or more people gathered there. We set everything up slowly, using the financial means we had at our disposal, without any loans or irrational expenses. My parents couldn’t have helped either, not with 4 children in the family. This is what I say to anyone who is starting something new: invest as much as your budget allows you to, and when you become stronger, you can do anything you want. If you start with a great debt, how will you cope later? You will be constantly under stress.

Right now, Guaba is my baby, it's my whole life, it's where I live, it's where I sleep, it's not just a job. I like being here. I look forward to seeing my friends, and they look forward to seeing me too. 

This year, of course, we have invested heavily in the renovation, the upgrading and the maintenance of the space, which is always necessary because we are near the sea, which tends to cause a fair amount of damage. We don’t want everything to be perfect in terms of furnishing or decorations, because we don’t want to create the feeling of a set up area that is not relaxed, but we surely want the technology we have in the place to be excellent, especially in terms of sound. We emphasize quality without impacting the relaxed atmosphere we have, balanced by the colors, our graffiti, etc.

This kind of entertainment has begun to spread. This is the kind of vibe that the Street Life Festival gives, for example. Was the goal for it to become a trend?
Whatever we did, we did it for our space. If that became a trend, it means that it is something that is appreciated and beloved by the people. We always take care not to lower the quality of anything, not the drinks, not the entertainment we provide. We have never deceived anyone, and this is something that we are known for, both in our city, and abroad. This is who we have created the Guaba name. Of course, Yiotis, who started the Street Life Festival, is my best man and I know that he has the same passion, and the same need to create something new and different. 

Guaba is the beach bar whose name has been most frequently tattooed on peoples' bodies around the world. 

Social media arrived almost out of nowhere, and you were there from its beginning and all through its development. How did you utilize it?
We were among the first to have a Facebook page. Since our target market is young people, we need to follow what's new, otherwise we will be left behind. Guaba is all about the youth, from its music to its companions and its friends. We can’t stay behind in technology. We did, of course, start with old school advertising, with flyers and door-to-door distribution, etc. We continue to use print and flyers, despite the fact that we use the new technology very much.

Guaba is one of the first entertainment venues that used photos and video in a great extent.
Yes, I was following the work of a young boy, Alex (aka Alex Is Dead), who would prepare clips of his outings with his friends, and I liked what he did, he appeared to have talent and he had studied photography, too. I asked him to meet and so our collaboration began, from 2012 until today. With Alex, we introduced more creative elements in Guaba's promotional videos, leaving behind the standardized images of nightlife with the drinks, the DJs and the dancers on the bars. We put the story inside the videos, we created special characters and that made them known to the whole world. Sometimes there may be a downturn in the ideas, but they are always renewed with new material.

Do you have a good team?
Yes, of course, and we invest in this. Of course, the man whom I trust the most, the one for whom Guaba is just as much his as mine, even if he is not a partner or a shareholder, who is always next to Guaba and who will take over in the future, is my brother, Nicolas. I have no children, nor am I married, so the place is his. After all, even now, he handles very important parts of the business. He is by my side for most important business issues.

Ever since I was a child, I have worked at various jobs. This is how you learn, this is how learn how money is earned. Today, I see young people coming here to work and it's like they're being forced to do it.

Do you prefer to have staff who has worked for years with you?
In some cases, yes. As far as the security staff is concerned, the people who are at the door, it is good for them to be recognized by the visitors, and for them to recognize the people inside the venue. As for the other positions, fortunately or not, most of them will lose their enthusiasm in 2 - 3 years. One will not wish to be a bartender forever, he or she will be looking to do other things. I am glad when someone leaves this place and has gained knowledge in order to be successful in whatever he will do later.

Is nationality a criterion for being part of the Guaba team?
No, I don’t mind where someone is from, it matters only if he or she can work here legally. Nor do I care if they have no experience. If someone has a positive attitude, they will come and learn. I also avoid hiring people that have picked up bad habits in other places and do not work professionally, something which is very common in Cyprus. Most of the companies that closed couldn’t control their staff or their drinks losses. The consumption of drinks is so large every day, that if you don’t have proper control, to know who gives away drinks and how many, you will spiral out of control and that will lead to problems.

I do not care if they have no experience. If someone has a positive attitude, they will come and learn. I also avoid hiring people that have picked up bad habits in other places and they do not work professionally, something which is very common in Cyprus. 

So you don’t allow the bartenders to give away drinks?
No, of course they can. After all, we build personal relationships at work. However, every giveaway must be noted down and measured in the inventory. We will not become impersonal and distant when serving the people, we will not put up walls, like what happened in Ibiza, which has lost its hospitality. We like to give drinks away because it helps to get in touch with the people, as long as there is control. If you lose the control of your supplies and your inventory even for a while, the losses are enormous. The staff is too large, the drinks are too many and I always have to be there to manage it. Even the smallest mistake from someone can lead to a great damage.

Is the staff the most important part of a business?
Yes, I think it is. Actually, if your team respects your work, it's the best thing you could have. I always maintain a friendly relationships with the Guaba staff, and you can ask whoever you want from the people here. The perfect combination is friendly relationships, along with discipline, professionalism and specific principles. Therefore, if someone leaves Guaba and goes somewhere else to work, with the principles we build, he knows that he will have very positive recommendationsfor his next employer.

Yiannis in his office with the clown figurines, the mascots of Guaba and perhaps even his own alter ego. He has created some areas there that are suitable for sleeping work is finished, around 5 am, so that he can get back to work the next morning, after waking up and swimming in the sea.

"I saw how they work in England and I appreciated their professionalism"

Did you follow an English model in the way you set up this business?
Yes, to a large extent. I saw how things worked in England and I appreciated the professionalism, which we don’t have in Cyprus. We may never reach the level England was at at that time. It may take decades for Cyprus to move in this direction. Here, there is a mentality that if you are working at a bar, you can give away drinks recklessly, without reporting back to anyone. And this is something that was eventually has passed onto the customer as well, who expects that exact thing from the bartender. The customer has to respect the place he visits, but also the person behind the bar and leave a tip in the end.

Is this the business model of the most popular beach bar in Cyprus then?
It's part of the model. On one hand we have the old school management, the relationship with the staff, the principles and the rules we follow in the management of the work, with discipline and seriousness. On the other hand, we have the new age management, which has to do with the technology we use. For example, we have set up our very advanced software so we are able to manage our stock of beverages precisely.

We don’t want everything to be perfect in terms of furnishing or decorations, but we certainly want the technology we have in the place to be excellent. We emphasize quality without losing the relaxed atmosphere we created, with the colors, the graffiti, etc.

Do you personally, have a role model?
My mentor, as I always say, is the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, with whom we have the same hairstyle, but - unfortunately - not the same bank account (laughs). This man has managed to dominate in everything. He started selling books online and managed to conquer the world. He is ahead of everyone and invests continuously in other areas. He recently bought Whole Foods stores for $13 billion.

I would give everything, besides Guaba of course (he laughs again, as he does whenever he really means what he says), to spend a day with Jeff Bezos, so I can see how what one day is like at the office of this great businessman, whom I really would like as a mentor. For me, Amazon is the most integrated company in the world. I have read about his next ventures in a few years and there are things were only possible in science fiction movies not long ago. 

Are innovation and management what makes Guaba a succesfull business?
That too, yes, but first and foremost it's what you get out of your bar when you are doing something you love, and you see the people responding to it. This is totally addictive, it's like a drug. The other day we had an event with some of the old Guaba DJs, which drew large crowds, and people were thanking me for the memories they got to relive. This feeling is the ultimate satisfaction. If you have this, then with a good team and a good management you can succeed.

With Andreas Michaelides, bars and service manager, having chilled Guaba nectar shots.

Does Guaba make a lot of money?
It's not the money that's the issue. The power of the business is the Guaba name, the brand name. We are the beach bar with the name that has been tattooed most frequently on people's bodies around the world. More than 800 people have tattoos of the Guaba logo. Beyond that, yes, we do make money, but we use the money that comes in to constantly invest in improving the space, the sound, the venue, everything.

Is that why you started a store franchise?
We saw a lot of people about the franchise, but we have also rejected many of them. Some people want to invest money so they can build their own Guaba, but we can’t give this name to someone who has never done this before, just because they want to give a certain amount as an investment. This is doomed to fail. The goal was never the profit. We wanted the business to be viable and profitable, which is required for its continuous evolution.

 Ιf your team respects your work, it's the best thing you could have... I maintain a friendly relationship with the Guaba staff.

Are the new elements in the business your ideas?
It's a combination of opinions, of ideas from my partners, and people's preferences. I listen and I observe, then I filter them all and move forward with the decision that I think is right.

What new proposals does Guaba have after 12 years of entertainment in Limassol?
Guaba has set up many brands over the years and one of the biggest is IV (Immature Veterans), which is basically a reunion for the old customers and friends of the bar. But we continue to bring new ideas to the table, some of which were presented this year for the first time, turning them into summertime institutions in Limassol.

The GU festival is set to become one of the biggest institutions. RnB Flower is also a new flower-themed event that will be back in 2018. Jelo Summer Jam is a day that we decided to dedicate to skateboarding, breakdancing and bike acrobatics, giving room for expression to the young people who have a talent and desire for action. Guaba has also undertaken the organization of the Limassol Marathon after-party for some years now. It is the biggest sports event in Cyprus, and we believe that we should all contribute to its development. 

"Guaba is strictly against drugs"

There is a reputation that the bar is related to drugs.
This is not true at all. It’s just that  the kind of music we host is generally associated with drugs, and this has created the wrong impressions. After all, this was the first time people would see a crowd of 2,000 people going crazy to the music. The only thing people would assume is that these people were on something. This notion has changed over the years. And I challenge anyone who believes such things about Guaba to come and see with their own eyes whether such notions are true or not. People can see the identity of the bar and how it works every day. We are just ourselves and we have nothing to hide.

Is the satisfaction you get from work your only "drug"? Were you never involved with drugs in any way?
Never. In no way. Many great and successful people have admitted that they used drugs, Richard Branson, even Steve Jobs. If I tried, I would have no problem saying it, but I'm just not a fan. It's that simple. Inside Guaba, I’m strictly against anyone using drugs. And anyone can testify to this. Outside of Guaba, anyone can do as they please. If I had the power to change the legislation, I would make it harsher for drug dealers, in order to inflict severe penalties. Personally, I’m fond of exercise. I practice quite a lot every day, and you can't do this if you're on drugs. I prefer alcohol to have fun and, of course, music is what lifts me up the most.

I know people talk about Guaba. They say both good things and bad things, but there is no such thing as a bad publicity... I challenge anyone who believes things about Guaba to come and see with their own eyes.

What time do you start drinking in the day?
Always after midnight, of course. I can’t drink during the day, we have things to do. We have 2 shifts this season: 1 for our daily operation (when we also deal with the preparations for the evening), and 1 for the night.

Could you see yourself doing any other job, perhaps a more standard one?
I certainly couldn’t be an accountant. I can’t sit there looking at numbers, I need to see the bigger picture. Of course, there are certainly accountants who do their job better than we do ours. Certainly there are accountants who work better than any of us in our work. Besides, this is why we pay to have such good associates.I once was in charge with handling all aspects of the business, but this was creating a lot of tension in our work.

"I would redo the crucifixion event only if I had consulted with the Church first"

You also ran into problems with religion.
Yes, an issue came up with an event that was organized one year, and certain people wanted to fight us because we had been doing well. We are a small, 'coffee-shop'-type society, and people want to have something to talk about. And so, at the annual carnival event of 2014, we held a satirical event starring the Guaba clown. We recreated a scene with the 'sinful' Guaba clown, who brought with him new music. The judge had to then decide who would be condemned to death by crucifixion (like in ancient times), the clown or a politician, who represented those who brought the economic downturn to Cyprus. Eventually, the clown was condemned and crucified, but the people demanded his return to the decks to play music, so he left the cross and carried on partying. This got people talking, and was seen by many as blasphemy, and we were accused of paralleling the Crucifixion of Christ with the crucifixion of the clown.

We introduced more creative elements in the Guaba promotional videos, leaving behind the standardized images of nightlife. We created a story within the videos, and created special characters that became known to the whole world. 

This was very far from reality. And yet, we received many poisonous reactions. I stopped reading the internet comments at some point, as they had turned this incident into something huge and evil, which was very far from the truth. Then I decided to speak to the Bishop himself. He was aware of the issue, although he didn’t make any statements about it, and I took the initiative to meet him. It was then that he demonstrated how close he is to the youth, and told me that there was no issue and even offered to come to Guaba and perform the official blessing of the place. And so, he came, the blessing took place and the issue was closed. Through this incident, we realized how much trouble was created because the matter was wrongly communicated, before our own videos and photographic material came out. If I could turn back time, I would have done the event again but I would have talked to the Bishop first.

How did you cope with the intensity of those days and make rational decisions?
With swimming. I always find relief in the sea.

What is Guaba clown? Does it symbolize anything?
We needed a mascot so we created the clown. He had already appeared in some events at the old Guaba, sort of like a weird guest at the party, roaming among the rest of the people. He slowly took on the role of a performer, he started playing his own music and he had his own DJ sets.

The sea is a way of life for Yiannis, just as it was for his grandfather, who was a winter swimmer. This is probably the secret to his energy and the upbeat mood he has throughout the  day.

"Every day, the first thing I do after I wake up is go into the sea"

How does it feel to work constantly at a giant party?
It's not always so intense. We work a lot in the months that the bar is open, but I rest during the rest of the year. At the end of the season we sleep more, we travel, and I generally take care of myself more and slowly prepare for the new season. Of course now, with the new restaurant, Dionysus Mansion, my free time has certainy decreased.

What is your daily routine like?
Every day is a like a large festival in sequences, full of energy and action, from Monday to Sunday. What I try to do is to make each day different so that we don't get bored, and neither do the customers, for they are the ones who benefit from this. 

I have, of course, some things that have become routine in my daily life. I usually sleep at 5 am and I wake up by 10 am. As soon as I wake up every morning, the first thing I do is to go into the sea. I'll swim, I'll go out on my paddle board, I'll exercise, and so the day begins. My connection to the sea is unique. It's something I inherited from my grandfather, Yiangos Pentaliotis, who was also a winter swimmer.

When you do something you love and you see people responding to it… it is absolutely addictive, it is like a drug.

Do you personally enjoy any luxuries?
I wouldn’t say so. I don’t have a yacht, for example (he laughs). Until recently, I drove a small car, a Smart car, which I had for years. I recently bought a better and safer car. I travel somewhat. I adore Asia, and I must have been at least 10 times to visit various countries in the region. I would always go with a group of my buddies, the ones who were available in January, in order to enjoy some rest, good food, and new sights. 

Do you ever travel alone?
I don’t like it. I can spend many hours alone here. And when I get my board and go out to the open sea, I like being alone and calm. But when I travel, I like to have a company. You will always meet new people when traveling too - I also promote Guaba nectar and take it as a gift whenever I go - but I also need fellow travelers. Now, my co-traveler is my girlfriend.

Guaba Nectar is, by now, a main element of the image of the beach bar, and of the experience it offers to visitors.

How did the decision to create Guaba nectar come about?
We had a disagreement with one of our suppliers over a drink of a particular brand. We then stopped the collaboration and decided to create our own drink that was similar, and which is produced by KEO, using our own recipe and made exclusively with Cypriot ingredients.

Do you see yourself doing the same thing until you are 60 years old?
Definitely not. Right now, this job is the first thing I think about every day, and the last thing I think about every night. But I don’t think I can do the same job with the same dedication and enthusiasm after many years. I will definitely keep the brand, but I will be in another position, with younger directors managing the bar with fresh perspectives and passion. After a period of many hours and many years, it will get tiring.

Do you want to have a family?
Maybe in the future I will have a baby. But right now, Guaba is my baby. It's my whole life. I live here and I sleep here. It's more than just a job. I enjoy being here. I look forward to seeing my friends, and they look forward to seeing me. The working hours are such that it is best for me to just stay here. With certain comforts, of course, unlike at the start when I would sleep on the floor.

"Limassol is our soul, the air of the city nourishes us"

Do you go on excursions in Limassol?
Yes, there are many places I like. We head to Akrotiri, Lady's Mile, Fasouri, Kourion, Avdimou, to the westernmost beaches for walks and to come in contact with nature. In the winter we go to the mountains a lot.

Could you live anywhere else besides Limassol?
No, our soul is here, and the air of the city nourishes us. 

What is the Limassol identity that you believe should be projected more?
It's the quality of life, the ability to enjoy products and services at very high standards. Multiculturalism is also an element of Limassol and we particularly like it. This is what we mean by the phrase "the tribes of Guaba". We need to focus more on the hospitality and the high quality of services provided, no matter if someone is at the Four Seasons, or at Guaba, or at Kiki's kebab restaurant. We should all do our job correctly and the competition will continuously raise the bar.

I live in a place that is like paradise and I hear nagging and complaints from everyone. We constantly complain about things, instead of doing something to change them. This bothers me...

What needs improvement in the city?
Something must be done about the old buildings and the visual pollution they cause on the coastal front of Limassol. Some will say that the high buildings that are being constructed now will damage the city. I say that if they are done correctly, they will be fine. The transportation is also a problem. It’s unacceptable not to know when the bus will arrive. As for the sea, yes, it’s dirty and this is a big problem. It’s something that has deteriorated in recent years. A law should be enforced with heavy fines on ships that pollute the sea water. The fines and penalties should be so high that they would think twice, long before they even reach Limassol. The green areas must grow in the city, too. We need to see the laws that Singapore has for that, which is full of green spots in its center.

Is there anything that bothers you about the people of Limassol?
Yes, there is a problem with our mentality, and this is also very apparent at schools. I see young people who don’t respect their schools, for example. This has to change and our system is responsible for proper education. But what really bothers me is complaining. I live in a place that is like paradise and I hear nagging and complaints from everyone, both from government agencies and from the people, from everyone.

Limassol is quality of life, and the ability to enjoy products and services at very high standards. Multiculturalism is also an element of Limassol, and we like it a lot.

I don’t like how the trend of complaining instead of actually doing something has prevailed. There is a sense of misery that doesn’t fit into the mindset of a growing city. We are constantly complaining about the slightest thing, instead of doing something to change it. In Limassol, people have to start seeing the bigger picture and become more open minded. We need to see Limassol as part of an international image and envision it to become a pioneer in all that we offer.

What else would you like to see in Limassol?
I would like to see more initiatives from local owners of private companies than from franchise companies, so that one can sense hospitality with a genuine Cypriot identity, as is the case of cities such as Florence and Athens, where a chain store is always the secondary option. What makes franchises dominate in Cyprus is the fact that they uphold quality standards through their standardized system, which works correctly. But people, and foreigners especially, want to see something different, to experience something unique to the city. In the most central parts of Limassol, it is franchise stores that dominate.

The person who lives on a daily wage needs help to be able to have a good time in the city, especially when the city is constantly growing.

The service industry could also stand to be improved. You need skills to know how to serve, how to do it properly and with a smile. The visitor wants to see a human face, to be approached with a pleasant disposition. This is what professionalism is about. You can’t do something well if you don’t do it with passion. That's why at Guaba, when someone isn't in a good mood, I tell them to go home with their wages paid, because if they stay, they could affect the rest of the team.

I would also like to see good 3-star hotels in Limassol. It is a point weakness that we don’t have this option for tourists. We should have hotels with quality services and facilities, such as the Alasia Hotel, which can be an alternative for those who don’t want the ultimate 5-star luxury but who still wish to enjoy a good level of accommodation. This way, we would have tourist traffic throughout the year. An increase in the number of cruise ships arriving at the port could also help with this. People who go downtown for 2 - 3 hours play a big part in helping businesses. This happened more frequently in the past, but not as much anymore. 

At the same time, however, with all the growth, the luxury and wealth, the simple citizen, the resident of Limassol, must also be able to live well. Some people have to take this into serious consideration and reduce certain fees, so that the cost of living can be decreased. The person who lives on a daily wage needs help to be able to have a good time in the city, especially when the city is constantly growing.

Up until 12 years ago, Yiannis was living in a wooden hut. Today, he is the owner of one of the top beach bars in the world. He did it by putting his soul into his work, along with a lot of passion, persistence, hard work, and a vision above all. This is the identity of Guaba: putting the labels aside and embracing the entire world, just like in the early days, when people would sleep on the beach and camp outside until the bar would reopen.

"Guaba will never change. Many bars abroad fell into this trap, becoming more urban and more set up. I could easily close the place down and undergo a renovation unlike any other that Limassol has ever seen. But if we do this, we would have already lost the game. It would not be Guaba anymore. 

Yiannis has great ideas, he can see the big picture and that's why Guaba is helping to raise the image of Limassol all over the world. His feet are firmly planted on the ground, however. He avoids publicity or marketing his own image. That's why he has never given an interview before about the entire journey of his business. It’s not because he is distant or arrogant – far from it (even though he did wake up one morning and leave on the private jet of a famous DJ who had played at his bar the previous night, and even though he does receive smiles from internationally renowned artists and people in showbiz at Tomorrowland). For him, his own story and the story of Guaba are worthy to the extent that they contribute to the image of Limassol. Besides, this is what he wants more anything: for the city to grow, with people striving for it with the same persistence, dedication and humility he has shown while fighting for his vision.

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