Updated: Sep 12, 2019
For the past seven years, Ilias Pappas has grown his passion and talent for serving others, and serving them well, through exceptional food experiences. It all started from a food truck.
Since the start of Athenian Grill back in 2013, Pappas has built his operation on three core values: ethical, authentic and sustainably sourced ingredients from local farmers. Anything that comes out of the kitchen contains this promise and, better yet, the quality isn’t sacrificed from the high demand that is required from them.
So students who’ve decided to leave their dining hall days behind them may want to reconsider once they experience the newest addition found at both locations of UK’s sit-down dining venues: Athenian Grill. Locally known for Greek/Mediterranean cuisine at its three Lexington locations, Athenian Grill is now bringing ethnic flare to traditional college dining. But if you looked at the students’ dining options a year ago, the journey to transform UK Dining as we knew it was just beginning. Administrators wanted to improve the student experience through the means of food, so in January, they began.
When searching for restaurants to accompany the university during this transition, Aramark’s Resident District Manager on campus, Pulkit Vigg — who proudly introduces himself as a resident foodie — was drawn to Athenian Grill’s values, mission, and what it had to offer the students at UK. As someone who emphasizes both food and community experiences, Vigg set out to combine the two and partner with local restaurants to deliver not only quality food but quality service and quality professionalism. After meeting the founding owner Pappas, he believed Athenian Grill was a perfect fit for the task.
“Ilias is driven and hospitable,” said Vigg, who also noted that’s what caught and kept his eye. “UK is very fortunate to have this platform and we think it is very unique to the university. Having the ability to establish wonder and try new things never before done here all enhances the students’ experience.”
All in all, Vigg says he can share his passion for food and people with Pappas, and agreed to bring him to campus once he discovered Athenian Grill’s food “looks good, keeps good, and tastes good.”
When Athenian Grill first arrived at the University of Kentucky in fall 2018, Pappas and his team served students during lunchtime hours every other week at Champions Kitchen. Then they started serving dinner every other week at The 90. As their popularity grew, so did their presence on campus, as UK Dining offered them not one, but two, permanent stations. Now Athenian Grill team members are dedicated to delivering lunch and dinner cuisine every Monday through Friday at their Champions Kitchen and The 90 locations, as well as the “Spice” station in The 90.
Throughout the past semester, Pappas and his team of chefs have enjoyed that energy at the University of Kentucky and have set out to keep students engaged and eager.
“We enjoy seeing the excitement on the students’ faces when they come in and see a new menu each day,” he said.
Not only can you see the joy on students’ faces, but almost every day during lunch time, you can see the line of students waiting to be served by the Athenian Grill team. Pappas expressed his commitment to sustainability, serving students of the world, and pushing them to try new styles of food in the semesters to come.
Pappas said that Athenian Grill and the University of Kentucky have an “evolving relationship that’s core value is customer service, quality of food, and dynamic flavor profile of the plate.”
Overall, Athenian Grill has been able to achieve everything UK set out to find and more.
Story written by Macy Hagan
Photos by Emily Wrenn