I recently had a chance to speak with Anastasia Koutsioukis who co-owns The Drexel (in Miami Beach) with her husband Ahmet Erkaya, along with husband and wife duo, Chef Nano Crespo and Tamara Magalhaes. If you’ve visited Miami, you probably know Anastasia and Ahmet’s very popular restaurant, Mandolin Aegean Bistro in Miami’s Design District.
Anastasia and I have something in common. We were raised in Toronto, Canada, by immigrant parents. Growing up in Toronto is very special. As taught in school, Canada is like a mosaic, and Toronto, the most populous city, is defined by its multiculturalism.
Return to the Table
Dining out in Toronto is also special. It’s a treasured detachment from a hectic day in a fast-paced city. There’s still that European sensibility where a visit to a restaurant involves a long conversation with friends or family, accompanied by a bottle of wine and full-course meal.
Furthermore, eating at home with family is essential. My best friend in high school was Greek and any visit to her house involved food in some way. I especially loved the holidays when Kathy would give me a box full of Melomakarona (honey cookies) and Kourabiedes (almond biscuits coated in mounds of powdered sugar).
Less is More
I felt this same “food means love” vibe when getting to know Anastasia. Lucky for me and all South Floridians, she and Ahmet brought their Mediterranean sensibility to Miami in 2009. (Ahmet was born and raised in Izmir, an Aegean city in Western Turkey.) Now running a few businesses, they’ve become much busier, but the couple’s “less is more” mindset is evident in all they do. Fresh quality ingredients, elegant ambiance, and an air of the Greek islands transport their guests to a carefree moment — life’s simple pleasures.
We spoke about opening The Drexel, their lives, and future plans. Here’s what Anastasia told us:
How did you meet?
We met in New York City at the restaurant where Ahmet was working. I came in as a patron after work (I worked in fashion/beauty marketing at the time). I took a seat at the bar, and it was love at first sight. We both lived in NYC for 12 years before moving to Miami to open our dream restaurant together.
With so many businesses to oversee and run, how do you maintain simplicity at home and in your personal life?
We cherish our private life and are quite low key during our down time. When we’re not working, we spend all our time with our son Alex and are homebodies. We are social for a living so when we have time off, I love to cook and entertain at home. It’s our sanctuary. I’m always working on a home improvement project. Home keeps me grounded.
In a past interview, you mentioned your grandfather and how so many Greek immigrants like him emigrated, often opened a restaurant, and pursued the American Dream. How did this upbringing impact your work ethic?
We believe the only way to achieve your dreams is through hard work and perseverance. My grandparents and many immigrants like them, left us with many valuable lessons in life, including the importance of family and community, preserving traditions, holding onto your heritage, and how to be resourceful. We’re able to achieve a lot with very little. Achieving any dream starts with believing in yourself. You can’t get ahead without optimism and appreciation.
While Mandolin Aegean is influenced by your Turkish and Greek roots, why did you decide to focus more on the French (and Italian) Riviera as a source of inspiration for the Drexel – cuisine and décor/ambiance?
The Mediterranean Riviera is our source of inspiration for The Drexel. When I think of the Riviera, I think of the coastal towns in France, Italy, and Greece. I insistently associate it with the 1960’s, carefree summers, simplistic yet sexy mid-century design and style. It’s an effortless lifestyle, with subdued sun-washed colors, nature’s abundance, and simplistic food. Those influences are consistent in all my projects. That’s the way we live, even here in Miami. I’m always inspired by the Mediterranean and it’s where I long to be. In Greece and the Greek Islands, you find many modern Mediterranean restaurants like this serving deliciously grilled dishes, light pastas, pizzas, and salads.
For The Drexel’s design I used a lighter palette. I referenced my travels and my home in Paros, Greece, including plastered walls, collected ceramics, and silvery greens from the olive trees. Mandolin is an Aegean brand so blue is a distinctive part of the storytelling. It’s reminiscent of the quaint and humble tavernas found on the Greek Islands and Turkish Coast. With Drexel, we wanted a more sophisticated and modern approach to the coastal Mediterranean feel. We wanted a place to sit with friends on a breezy evening enjoying the simplicity of a glass of rosé and a beautiful meal “al fresco.” I wanted to be whisked away to the riviera towns.
For The Drexel, you have partnered with another husband-and-wife team. Explain what aspect of the restaurant each of you takes care of.
Our partners are Nano Crespo, Executive Chef, and his wife, Tamara Magalhaes, head of daily operations and our front of house team. Ahmet acts as Chief Business & Operator. He also takes care of beverage curation. I am the brand’s concept creator and lead designer. I also oversee Marketing and Creative Direction.
How did you decide the concept and what makes the merging of two couples a good partnership?
Like all partnerships in life, it’s important that everyone brings something to the table. In our case at The Drexel, each one of us has a different strength and talent. It’s the perfect division of labor: Food, Design, Operations & Business know-how. It allows us to all stay in our lane and respect each other’s expertise, so we can focus on our own responsibilities. That’s the hardest part about any business, trying to juggle it all. In order to have a harmonious partnership, especially when couples are involved, it’s important to have shared values and respect family time.
Do you consider the historic Española Way to be the perfect location for The Drexel?
Yes. We love Española Way. It is one of the most important and prettiest historical neighborhoods in Miami. The street is comprised of Mediterranean Revival buildings from the 1920’s and designed after the plazas found throughout Spain, hence its name. The architecture of the buildings around us had a huge influence on my design approach, mimicking the arches and plaster work. I think local brands like The Drexel are the perfect match, creating community and a sense of intimacy in Miami Beach. There is a renaissance happening on Española Way with businesses like the Esme Hotel and The Drexel paving the way.
What thoughts went into the design and how does that fit with the type of designing experience that you want for your guests?
I approach designing restaurants in the same manner that I design my home. I wanted The Drexel to feel relaxed, pared back yet chic. I’m very interested in uncomplicated and underdesigned spaces, especially restaurants where you want the people and food to shine. I want my guests to escape through their senses, but not in a contrived way. That’s why I believe people love the atmosphere so much at The Drexel because it is understated and sophisticated. The calming space and minimalist decor are punctuated with pops of light green marble and sage banquettes along with lots of rattan and ceramics collected on my summer travels through Europe. The artwork are pieces from my personal collection. I want my guests to feel like they’re dining in our homes when they experience our restaurants.
For anyone wishing to add Mediterranean style to their home, visit Anastasia’s home decor store, Mrs. Mandolin.
Since you focus on locally sourced seafood and vegetable-forward dishes, will some menu options change throughout the year?
Yes, in addition to our signature dishes we change the menu seasonally and add daily specials
Less is more in both food and lifestyle. I believe beauty is found in simplicity. You really don’t have to try so hard.
Ahmet is a sommelier who has cultivated a personal relationship with farmers and winemakers. What thought process goes into the wine selection?
Ahmet approaches his list based on great quality for the value, and the wines must pair well with our food. We lean toward Old-World style Mediterranean wines. They’re timeless.
Tell us a bit about the launch of his own Greek wine portfolio?
We’re very excited to work with farmers and winemakers from the Cycladic Islands. We’re bringing sustainably made wines from Paros, Tinos, and Santorini, created by young, daring Greek winemakers that are exclusive to our portfolio. We built a platform and brand around the Aegean and its lifestyle. It’s only fitting that this would be the next step for us. We’re thrilled for this next step and to share these labels in the U.S.
Idyllic Paros, Greece is your “home away from home” and probably the best place to recharge your battery. Although you are so familiar with the area, do you return home to Miami filled with new inspiration for the restaurants?
All the time. Our businesses in Miami are based on our lifestyles back in the Aegean; so, naturally, Paros is our place of inspiration. We’ve been returning back for almost 20 years now and we continue to return filled with ideas. Now we’re beginning to source directly from Greece and create our own products from there. This year we produced our first batch of olive oil from trees on our property. It was such an incredible experience and felt so connected to its origin.
You are committed to preserving the culture of the area. What are some of the things that you hope travelers looking for an authentic travel experience can find in Paros?
The Greek islands have been well preserved. They have a raw beauty about them. Going to the islands is like stepping back in time. As tourism becomes more abundant on the islands, I hope and believe travelers will want to experience a sense of place, eat the wonderful local food, and support the local crafts. We love Paros because it has it all – a cosmopolitan port, beautifully preserved fisherman’s villages, mountain towns, and most of all it still feels “Greek.” But, in order to discover any Greek island, you have to get out of the port, rent a scooter or car, and explore the undiscovered areas to get a real feel for Greek island living
Tell us about the small hotel that you are building in Paros?
The property is a 100-year-old converted farmhouse built on an olive grove in Paros. There will be six unique suites with their own private outdoor spaces, individually designed to reflect the character of the inn. I’ve begun sourcing antique pieces and reclaimed marble sinks from historical properties in the Greek Islands to reflect a sense of place. We want our guests to fall in love with Greece and its unique heritage, craftsmanship, and simplicity. The goal is to create a sense of authentic travel and embrace the slow living ethos we live by.
This is a dream project that started during the pandemic when we were completing the renovations and design of our home in Paros. We have been going to this beloved island for 18 years. In fact, our restaurant Mandolin was inspired by the blue and white houses and family run tavernas found dotted around Paros. Our hotel will reflect the style of hospitality we’ve cultivated at our restaurants. Food and beverage will be very integral to the experience, along with the amenities that one can only find in our own home.
An Exceptional Dinner at the Drexel
Many thanks to Anastasia and The Drexel team for their hospitality. We greatly enjoyed eating the Heirloom Salad and Tuna Carpaccio paired with an orange wine from Friuli. We also tried gnocchi with a spicy pomodoro sauce, smoked guanciale pizza, lamb chops with tzatziki, and cucumber salad. The pizza and especially the lamb paired well with a robust yet elegant, Gigondas wine. Finally, we shared a delicious Pavlova topped with strawberries.
1446 Drexel Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139