A visit to Evvia is not complete without a taste of Panos Gogonas’ hospitality. He embodies the Greek word Philoxenia, which means to treat a stranger like an old friend. For Panos, everyone is an old friend. When you speak with him you feel as if he has known you for years. His easy-going manner and ever-present grin reveal his deep Mediterranean roots.
Panos was raised with the Mediterranean literally at his side in the small town of Astros in the Peloponnese region of Greece. His father followed family tradition and was a fisherman by trade. Panos grew up on fishing boats and worked the tourist season in restaurants in his home town. During this time, he learned the fine art of pizza making, particularly the deep-dish style that was popular where he lived.
When it was time to attend University, he made his way to the United States to attend San Francisco State University. Panos made money during school working in a pizza restaurant in San Francisco where he mastered the thin crust pizza style. He found that the challenging, very physical demands of the restaurant world suited him. So much so that in 1989 he and a partner decided to open their own restaurant in the Richmond District of San Francisco. The restaurant was called Greco Romana and yes, they served pizza! The restaurant quickly established a loyal local following.
After 9 years in business, Panos left Greco Romana to his partner and entered a new phase of his life. He took a few months off to regroup and enjoy life before joining the service team in 1999, at Evvia’s sister restaurant Kokkari Estiatorio in San Francisco. With the stress of owning and operating his own restaurant behind him, Panos could focus on what he is truly best at; taking care of people. As a server at Kokkari, he really enjoyed introducing people to the Greek dining experience which has as much to do with hospitality as it does with delicious Mediterranean cuisine. Panos quickly became a fixture at Kokkari; his warm smile and gift-of-gab made him extremely popular with the customers.
Panos was eventually lured in to a management roll at Kokkari. In 2006 he accepted the position of General Manager, as well as Managing Partner, at Evvia. It is here that Panos has really found his home. His relaxed brand of hospitality and genuine warmth is the perfect fit for Evvia’s intimate surroundings and regular clientele.
John Paul Lechtenberg
Farm-to-table represents both a personal journey and an approach to cooking for John Paul Lechtenberg. He was raised by a family of farmers who grew apples in the California Central Coast. As a teenager he worked for a strawberry farmer selling produce at the San Francisco Farmer’s Market where he was introduced to Patricia Unterman, food journalist, chef, restaurateur and co-founder of the San Francisco Farmer’s Market. She inspired a move into the culinary world for JP. While attending Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, JP worked as a saute cook at Unterman’s famed restaurant, the Hayes Street Grill in Hayes Valley. He also gained experience staging at such fine dining establishments as Spruce in San Francisco and Plumed Horse in Saratoga, California.
After Le Cordon Bleu, JP found a home at Au Midi in the South Bay where he worked under Chef Muriel Loubiere, who quickly became his culinary mentor. Au Midi was a small operation, only 3 people in the kitchen cooking French-Mediterranean food from the freshest, local ingredient available. JP realized his love for this farm-to-table approach during his time at Au Midi. No fancy bells and whistles, just delicious, simple food cooked from ingredients found just down the road. After two years at Au Midi JP switched gears and went to work as a Sous Chef at the bustling Bitter St. Bistro where he learned to operate a kitchen in a high volume environment. He then went on to spend 12 years at Hollin’s House at the Pasatiempo Golf and Country Club in Santa Cruz. He honed his leadership skills as Chef de Cuisine and then Culinary and Beverage Director.
The Hollin’s House is where JP met his future wife, Annie Arvelas who was overseeing dining room operations. Annie’s family has roots on the Greek island of Crete, an area with a rich culinary heritage and unique, locally-driven cuisine. On their honeymoon, the couple visited several islands in Greece, including Crete where JP was introduced to the age-old tradition of foraging and preparing wild greens; the epitome of farm-to-table. JP returned home with a genuine understanding of the concept of Philoxenia, the Greek word for hospitality which translates simply to treating strangers like friends.
In 2019, JP and Annie welcomed their first child, a daughter, Katherine Antoinette, followed by their son James Peter two years later.
In 2022, through family connections, JP was introduced to one of the owners of Evvia Estiatorio. Evvia was looking for a Chef de Cuisine. Ironically, JP and Annie had dined at Kokkari in San Francisco, Evvia’s sister restaurant, in 2018. JP was particularly impressed with the dining experience; one that combined a distinctly warm culture of hospitality with soulful Greek cuisine. When trying to envision his perfect restaurant scenario, JP had a smaller, more casual version of Kokkari in mind. To his surprise, Evvia represented that vision.
In the summer of 2023, after a year as Chef de Cuisine, JP took over the Executive Chef position at Evvia. “I am really excited to be at the helm of such a Bay Area powerhouse and look forward to putting my passion for hospitality and cooking into play. True hospitality is a real art form. It takes a lot of work and manpower to achieve. It means genuinely caring for people and meeting their every need. It’s kind of like treading water; underneath the water you are peddling like crazy to stay afloat and above the water you appear calm and collected.”
Chef Mario Ortega’s interest in food and cooking began at a young age. He would spend hours in the kitchen with his grandma observing and helping her cook and tasting the delicious dishes she created. This ignited a lifelong passion for food that shaped his adult life.
After attending culinary school at Leaderwolf Academy in Sacramento, Chef Mario was brought to California’s culinary mecca, San Francisco. During his time in SF, Mario worked hard to develop his craft at high end restaurants such as Vertigo in the famous TransAmerica building and Scala’s Bistro. He spent several years at Scala’s nourishing his love for Mediterranean cooking. In 2005 he left the city for an opportunity to head the kitchen at Quail Lodge Resort in Carmel. He joined the culinary team at Kokkari Estiatorio, Evvia’s sister restaurant in San Francisco a few years later as Chef de Cuisine. The modern Hellenic cuisine was a great fit for Mario’s Meditteranean-focused background. In 2007 he was offered the Executive Chef position here at Evvia.
When Chef is not at the helm at Evvia, he adores spending time with his wife and three children and it usually involves food!
Photo Sara Remington
“Running a restaurant is all about taking care of people,” says Paul Kirby who has been at the helm of Evvia Estiatorio and Kokkari Estiatorio, Evvia’s sister restaurant in San Francisco since 2000. “From your staff to each and every guest that comes into your establishment, it is important to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome. Restaurant employees that are valued and respected take pride in their work and truly enjoy their jobs. This translates directly to the guest experience.”
While Paul may be soft-spoken and charming (qualities he attributes to his Southern upbringing), he is extremely driven. His dedicated, hands-on approach to management ensures the high standards of service and hospitality at the restaurant have stayed consistent for over 15 years. Under Kirby, Evvia and Kokkari’s refreshing approach to service emphasizes the emotional elements of hospitality: Have a good time and above all, make sure the guests have a great time.
Paul came to the West Coast after years managing waterfront restaurant properties in The Hamptons outside of New York City. His first job in San Francisco was working alongside acclaimed, Bay Area Chef, Reed Hearon as General Manager of Rose Pistola. After three years with Hearon he came to Kokkari Estiatorio bringing with him a genuine appreciation and knowledge of rustic Mediterranean cuisine and wines, an essential prerequisite for working at Kokkari. In 2006 he was named Managing Partner of both Kokkari and Evvia.
Photo Sara Remington
Erik Cosselmon’s wide-ranging Mediterranean repertoire and strong, ingredient-driven style finds full expression in the Greek-inspired menus at Evvia and sister restaurant Kokkari San Francisco. Since being named Executive Chef of Kokkari in 2004, Cosselmon’s brand of casual tavern cuisine has attracted even more devotees, earning Kokkari top ratings in both local and National press publications. “The goal at Evvia and Kokkari is to offer as close to a true Greek restaurant experience as possible. Not only is it about good food, it’s about the people, the celebratory atmosphere and the Greek hospitality.”
Erik grew up on a farm in Central Michigan helping his mom tend their extensive kitchen garden and his dad cook for the large parties the family would host. This introduction to farm-fresh ingredients and cooking cemented his desire to be a chef at an early age. After completing a degree at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York he moved to Manhattan and began his career working at notable restaurants such as Montrachet, Tribeca Grill, Le Bernardin and Daniel.
Cosselmon moved to San Francisco and in 1996 joined Reed Hearon in opening his landmark Liqurian restaurant, Rose Pistola, in North Beach. In 1998 he was named Executive Chef. In 2001, ready for a new challenge, Erik left to run the kitchen at Cetrella Bistro & Café in Half Moon Bay where he garnered immediate and consistent critical praise for his rustic Mediterranean food
His subsequent move to Kokkari made perfect sense. “Since moving from New York to the Bay Area, my cooking philosophy has evolved from the formal French tradition to the less complicated Mediterranean, with a focus on ingredients as opposed to the architecture of the dish.” His leadership and cuisine has contributed to Kokkari’s extraordinary success as one of San Francisco’s busiest restaurants. In 2006, Cosselmon joined the founding Partners as a Partner.