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Atlanta Orders In: Athens Pizza still serving loyal clientele in Decatur after 43 years

Yiayia’s Gyro Bites are among the appetizers on the menu at Athens Pizza. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Yiayia’s Gyro Bites are among the appetizers on the menu at Athens Pizza. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Owner Sandy Papadopoulos soon will add new Mediterranean restaurant in Chamblee

Athens Pizza has been a favorite of Atlantans since John and Asiemoula “Mama P” Papadopoulos first opened the north Decatur restaurant in 1977.

When John Papadopoulos died in 2002, the couple's youngest son, Sandy, took over operations. "Mama P" remained the face of the Greek pizza place until her passing in 2017. Now, it's up to Sandy to maneuver the long-standing family restaurant through the current public health and economic crises.

In mid-March, he closed the dining room and pivoted to carryout and delivery only. Athens Pizza operated in that mode until June 1, when Papadopoulos felt he safely could reopen for on-premises dining.

When a pandemic isn’t raging and social distancing isn’t a necessity, Athens Pizza can seat 220 people inside, and another 45 on the patio. Only 40 guests are permitted inside now, and another 30 on a patio that recently was given a makeover.

Athens Pizza founders John and Asiemoula Papadopoulos opened the Decatur Greek pizza restaurant in 1977. CONTRIBUTED BY PAPADOPOULOS FAMILY
Athens Pizza founders John and Asiemoula Papadopoulos opened the Decatur Greek pizza restaurant in 1977. CONTRIBUTED BY PAPADOPOULOS FAMILY

Diners have the option to eat with disposable utensils or pre-rolled silverware, but food still arrives on throw-away plates. “I don’t want to take a chance,” Papadopoulos said.

One reason he isn’t leaving safety to chance is because he’s not about to let down the loyal clientele amassed during more than four decades in business.

“We had a guy who flew in from Chattanooga to PDK (DeKalb-Peachtree Airport) on his plane, picked up his 14-inch Athens Special, and went back to Chattanooga,” Papadopoulos said.

At Athens Pizza, the Santorini Special stands out for briny Kalamata olives and tart-sweet sun-dried tomatoes. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
At Athens Pizza, the Santorini Special stands out for briny Kalamata olives and tart-sweet sun-dried tomatoes. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Just as his parents built the foundation for Athens Pizza, Papadopoulos is attempting to do the same with his own brainchild: a Mediterranean spot called Karv. In the works for five years, the counter-service restaurant is slated to open in early fall in the new Parkview on Peachtree mixed-use development in Chamblee. Collaborating with Papadopoulos is former Eclipse di Luna Executive Chef Shan Holler.

Karv will offer build-your-own bowls, salads and wraps assembled from proteins, sides, and sauces with Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern and other Mediterranean flavors. Rotisserie meats will be a focus, and are what lend the restaurant its name.

“We are basically going to carve the meat for you,” Papadopoulos said.

Athens Pizza owner Sandy Papadopoulos took over the family business when his father, John, passed away in 2002. His mother, known as Mama P, remained the face of the place until her passing in 2017. Sandy Papadopoulos plans to open fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant Karv in Chamblee this fall. LIGAYA FIGUERAS/LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Athens Pizza owner Sandy Papadopoulos took over the family business when his father, John, passed away in 2002. His mother, known as Mama P, remained the face of the place until her passing in 2017. Sandy Papadopoulos plans to open fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant Karv in Chamblee this fall. LIGAYA FIGUERAS/LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

“I’m proud of the fact that we are going to open a restaurant during this time period,” he added. “It shows the resiliency of restaurant owners. There’s something to be said for what my mom and dad instilled in me. When we feel like we’re at our lowest point — there’s been no lower point than this in the restaurant industry — for us to provide really good, chef-inspired, fast-casual Mediterranean food, I feel like we’re doing the right thing.

“Will we do the numbers we anticipate? Probably not,” Papadopoulos said, “but people will appreciate that we’re trying.”

ATHENS PIZZA

Menu: full menu, but with an abbreviated dessert menu

What's new: take-and-bake kits ($35); options include baked spaghetti, chicken tetrazini, eggplant Parmesan, lasagna and veggie lasagna, plus Greek salad and garlic knots. Also available: gyro kits ($35) and pizza kits ($10-$12); all kits feed four.

Alcohol: beer and wine

What I ordered: Yiayia's Gyro Bites; meatball appetizer; pastitsio, with a side of avgolemono (Greek lemon chicken soup) and spanakopizza; Santorini Special pizza; chicken kebab platter; baklava. Get ready to fill up without breaking the bank when you order from Athens Pizza. Meatballs are big, fat, tender, juicy and in a flavorful marinara sauce. The pastitsio is a huge portion, and comes with a spanakopita wedge, plus a side (I'm a fan of lemony avgolemono, but Athens' Greek salad is exceptional when tossed with Mama P's dressing — which is so good, they bottle and sell it). The specialty pizzas offer delicious Greek flavors; the Santorini stands out for briny Kalamata black olives and tart-sweet sun-dried tomatoes. Pizzas range from 6 inches to 16 inches.

Service options: pickup, delivery or dine-in; take-and-bake kits only available via phone order; delivery available via DoorDash; contactless payment; curbside pickup available

Safety protocols: following standard guidelines; all employees wear face coverings; back-of-house employees all wear gloves, front-of-house workers wear gloves when interacting with guests; multiple hand sanitizer stations available; food served on disposables for on-premises dining

Address, phone: 1341 Clairmont Road, Decatur; 404-636-1100

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Website: athenspizzaatlanta.com

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

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