St. Pete Beach restaurateurs Nick Skiadiotis and Gus Vartsakis came to America with a wave of Greek immigrants in the 1970s. Like many Greek immigrants at the time, they began their American lives working in Manhattan’s restaurants, diners and coffee shops. The dream was that if you worked hard enough and saved your money, one day you could open your own restaurant.
Nick Skiadiotis worked in hotels and coffee shops for four years before he could open his own diner, Astro, in 1979. He soon presided over a collection of diners in Manhattan. Suddenly, Nick Skiadiotis was a very busy man.
But the life of a restaurateur isn’t an easy one. “Weekends? You don’t have weekends,” says Nick’s son Teddy Skiadiotis. “Holidays? Those are your busiest days.”
By 1984, Nick needed a break – a family vacation at the Don CeSar on St. Pete Beach.
“We came for a week, and ended up staying three weeks,” says Teddy. Soon, the Skiadiotis family was escaping to St. Pete Beach every chance they got.
“The first time we drove by where Skidder’s is, it was a CitiBank that was for sale,” says Teddy, who was eight or nine then. “My Dad was like, ‘That should be a restaurant. I can’t believe it’s not a restaurant.’…This went on probably for a good four or five years.”
One winter day in New York, Nick looked at his wife and son and said, “Get in the car. If the building’s there, I’m buying it.”
Skidder’s Restaurant opened on St. Pete Beach in 1992.
About five years in, Nick and Angie Skiadiotis took another trip to the Don CeSar – they heard there was a Greek guy working there. That Greek guy was Gus Vartsakis.
“My dad started at Skidder’s as a server, and became a manager shortly after,” recounts Gus’ daughter Dia Vartsakis. “I was basically raised at Skidder’s in traditional ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ style. By 11 I was hostessing, and by 13 I was cashiering.”
To this day, Nick still calls Dia his niece.
While Nick established Skidder’s, son Teddy started working on Wall Street. In 2007, Teddy returned to the family business.
“My parents never wanted me to work in a restaurant,” says Teddy, “but that’s the one thing I love to do.”
Teddy immediately started working on Skidder’s menu. Like many of Manhattan’s Greek diners in the 70s, Skidder’s menu was encyclopedic. The one thing they didn’t have were gluten-free options. That changed when Teddy met June.
June was a member of a bridge foursome that played at Skidder’s every Tuesday. June couldn’t find anything on Skidder’s menu that she could eat.
“I asked her what she was allergic to,” Teddy told the Gabber, “and she said she had celiac disease.” For Teddy, who’d been dreaming of opening a gluten-free breakfast joint, it was a godsend.
Teddy spent five years training the staff to serve guests with celiac. Soon, Skidder’s was selling 300 to 400 gluten-free items a week.
Like Teddy, Dia Vartsakis also attended school away from home.
“While I was in college,” Dia says, “one of the customers at Skidder’s went up to my dad and said, ‘I have this corner restaurant that I’m holding the note on in Gulfport. I think it could be a great fit for you.’”
In 2011, Gus Vartsakis opened Neptune Grill in Gulfport with his friend, Chef Tony Papantoniou, who is also Greek. Gus asked if Dia would like to run Neptune for a year.
“Here I am almost nine years later,” Dia told the Gabber. “I just love it – the people part, the food part, every aspect of the restaurant business.”
Around the time Dia moved home to run Neptune with Gus, Teddy drove past what would later become the first location of Craft Kafé.
“That would be perfect for a little café,” Teddy thought. “With the organic superstore next store, all the organic customers I want would walk by it anyway.”
After five years, Teddy finally bought that space next to Earth Origins on Central Avenue.
“I wanted to create what I learned from working with my dad my whole life – that family diner experience,” says Teddy.
“I love the family dynamic of a family business,” Dia says. “My goal is to always maintain a family feel when it comes to both the customers and the employees. They’re not my employees. They’re my family. And the same thing with the locals and the regulars – they’re our family.”