LA’s Newest Greek Food Truck: A Story of Immigration, Determination and Cretan Pride

Making the journey from Crete to the USA was not a decision that Antonis Karayannakis took lightly. However, when opportunity knocked, he knew that he had a chance to prove to himself all that he was capable of accomplishing. He moved to the United States on March 1, 2013, and has focused on building his future ever since.

Karayannakis’ business-oriented mind lay dormant in Crete. He wanted to start his own business, but once the economic crisis hit Greece, he saw that there were too many obstacles to be overcome.

His dreams led him to where he is now, the owner of Kalamaki Greek Street Food, a food truck that specializes in “fine Greek food, Vromiko-style,” and which is inspired by Crete.

“I saw the potential in Crete [but] there wasn’t any future, business-wise,” said Karayannakis.

“I took the opportunity to go to the U.S. I proved what I can do, he told Greek Reporter. “It wasn’t easy but, if you want something and you have patience and don’t give up, you can stay in the U.S. and have success. You just need time.”

Just three years after he left Greece, tragedy struck Karayannakis’ family when his mother was accidentally killed outside of their home when a neighbor hit her as he backed up his car. “I had given a promise to her when I left Greece back then in 2013 to do something by myself and search for success. So I made this move this year [to open the food truck].” he said.

According to Karayannakis, the job “has a lot of work, few hours’ sleep, and stress, but as a proud Cretan-Greek we have in our blood [the will] to not give up and try harder to make it happen.”

Kalamaki-Greek-Street-Food-Greek-reporterBefore moving to Los Angeles, Karayannakis didn’t have dreams of becoming a chef. In fact, there is nothing in his background that would have hinted towards his destiny. But his love for Greek food and his passion for Crete, mixed with a keen business intuition, were crucial in his success.

“I was always a person who was trying to sell something different from the others. Even the coffee in my food truck is made with Greek yogurt,” he explained.

Karayannakis’ food truck is stationed at the Melrose Trading Post at 7850 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles every Sunday. He even sets up his patio space with furniture outside of his truck.

Melrose trading Post, Kalamaki Greek Street Food
Melrose trading Post, Kalamaki Greek Street Food

His food truck represents the “Cretan way,” he explained. “We give our passion to the food. Something different from traditional Greek gyros as most people know them.”

Kalamaki-Greek-Street-Food-Greek-reporterOn other days, Karayannakis finds himself traveling around Los Angeles, seeking out new opportunities and new events where he can reserve a spot for his food truck and share his unique creations.

With a Greek chef helping in the kitchen, Karayannakis is able to oversee the operations of the food truck, as well as serve up his specialty smoothies and coffee to customers. He explained that these are not your average smoothies. Instead, they have a Greek twist, being prepared with Greek yogurt cream. The smoothies even have Greek names assigned to them!

Kalamaki-Greek-Street-Food-LA-CAWhen asked about the public’s response to his food truck, Karayannakis said that in the one month that he has been at his post, he sees that customers are “curious to try the smoothies, coffee…and they want to try the food. For me the presentation is very important.”

It isn’t all fun and games running a food truck, Karayannakis said. Indeed, it is an exhausting job requiring lots of hard work. Most days he wakes up to start work at 5:30-6 a.m., and he sometimes works as late as 11 p.m. When there are special events such as concerts, he even pulls double shifts, working until the concert lets up in the early hours of the morning, only to start the next work day at 5:30 am.

“The satisfaction for me is seeing customers happy and they say that they will come again…or even when they are taking a picture of the food…that’s makes you happy,” said Karayannakis.

As for the future, Karayannakis’ goal is to expand his food truck business with 3-4 stable locations, and to continue spreading his passion for Greek food and for Crete.