Keith Richards was leaning over a wall to capture just the right shot, with a Greek man he didn’t know well ensuring he didn’t fall over the edge. But it was worth it, and today you can find the bird’s-eye view of the Greek coast he took in a large photo on the wall when you walk in the Taziki’s on Highway 31 that opened in April. The location was the first to exhibit new photos from the Richards’ family travels that now you can find in close to 100 Taziki’s around the country. To learn more about the back story on the restaurant’s Greek fare, we chatted with the man who started it all.
How did you decide on the new Vestavia location and its décor?
Our first Taziki’s was in The Colonnade, our second in Mountain Brook, our third in Lee Branch. I knew I wanted to be in Vestavia, I just didn’t know where. We eat at Diplomate Deli, and when that Pier One spot opened, I wanted to put a Taziki’s there. We were living in Vestavia at the time we started Taziki’s back in 1998, so technically Taziki’s started here. The décor was inspired by some of our Greece trips with the Mediterranean coastal look and feel. The colors and textures are what we saw when we were traveling in different islands with our family last summer. I have a garage door at my lake house that brings the outside in, and that’s what we wanted to do there. That was the first location we have done that in.
It’s been 21 years since you started Taziki’s. Can you give us a recap of that back story?
I had been working at Bottega for 10 years, and my wife, Amy, and I took a trip to Greece before we started our family. Their passion for life and food there struck me, and that’s what we wanted to bring back to Birmingham in our own Greek restaurant. There was one restaurant at an island on the coast, and we kept going back every night. I wanted to create that feeling back at home.
Can you tell us some about your recent travels to Greece?
I wanted my four children (two sets of twins), who were 16 and 13, to experience the culture and the healthiness there and what God has given us, so we all went last summer. We took tons of pictures and ate tons more food. We use a lot of products from Greece at Taziki’s including our lemon juice, olive oils, olives and our salts, so on another trip I took a friend of mine who is a photographer and fellow Birmingham resident George Sarris and met all these farmers. I wanted to bring back film and video to show people the farmers behind Taziki’s food. The photos in our restaurants aren’t stock photos, they come from our personal library from our travels.
The menu has grown and evolved over the years. What’s your go-to order?
Eighty percent of the core menu we created 21 years ago is still on our menu today. I love our new Quinoa Bowl with the chicken kebobs and taziki sauce. Our Tinos Salad in the bowl, which is also new, is a traditional Greek salad with cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, capers and feta we had on an island there.
How has Taziki’s grown and expanded?
A lot of people in Birmingham don’t know we have 95 stores since we only have nine in Birmingham. We have restaurants all the way from Tampa and up to West Virginia and all through Georgia and the Carolinas and Virginia. The farthest are Boise, Idaho, and Denver. If you look at the SEC football teams, we are in that market too—Athens, Tuscaloosa, Fayetteville, Gainesville, Auburn.
Most of our franchisees have eaten at Taziki’s and say, “I want one of these in my neighborhood.” Then it’s up to them to make sure they adhere to our recipes and culture, and they run it like they are Keith and Amy in Birmingham. Our franchise partners must be engrained in their community like we are.