In the kitchen with...
Chef Antonio Makrynakis
Antonio’s Greek Bakery and Cafe
Story by Laurie Constantino • Photography by Photo Arts by Janna
A tiny corner of Greece lies behind the doors of Antonio’s Greek Bakery and Café on Minnesota Drive in Anchorage. At his bakery-restaurant, Antonio ‘Tony’ Makrynakis serves traditional food from Kalymnos, the Greek island where he was born. “I opened it because Anchorage restaurants weren’t serving anything like Kalymnian food,” he says. “I knew if people tasted this food, they would love it.”
Tony’s life on Kalymnos shaped the chef he is today. His father and father’s father were bakers and owned a successful bakery. From the day Tony was born, everyone assumed he would be a baker.
His training began young: “One early morning when I was 7, I was sleeping. My father woke me. It was 3 am and he said ‘time to go to work.’ ” Tony got up and went to work. “That day is burned in my mind,” he says. “It’s when my career began.” For the next eight years, Tony worked in the bakery every day.
“At 15, I was done with the bakery. I started working as a professional singer,” says Tony. Despite his desire to quit baking, fate pulled Tony back into the kitchen. During his mandatory Greek military service, he was placed in charge of making bread and desserts for 300 shipmates.
Shortly after leaving the Navy, Tony met a Greek-American girl. The next thing he knew, he was married and living in Florida. Although the marriage lasted only one year, Tony fell in love with the United States and decided to stay.
During the mid-1970s, Tony met two Greek truck drivers whose work regularly took them to Alaska. They told him wild stories about the pipeline boom and how much money workers were making. “The drivers said, ‘come to Alaska’; I decided to go.”
Tony didn’t make it to the pipeline. Instead, he stopped in Anchorage and started a restaurant. In 1976, he became a US citizen. In 1978, he married Kathy, now his wife of 35 years.
Tony hatched the idea for his latest restaurant (one of 13 he has owned in Alaska) in 2008. He started by selling traditional Kalymnian baked goods at an Anchorage Chevron station. Customers loved the bread and pastries, and encouraged Tony to offer other traditional Greek foods.
Tony listened to his customers, moved to Choi’s Plaza on Minnesota and Benson in May 2011, and opened Antonio’s Greek Bakery and Cafe. “With a café, I can make true Kalymnian food, the best food in Greece! I cook like ladies in Kalymnos who came to my father’s bakery. I make my own dolmades (stuffed grape leaves and stuffed cabbage leaves). I make everything from scratch.”
Tony is passionate about the quintessential flavors of Greece. “My favorite ingredients are olive oil, onions, garlic, bay leaves, lemons and cinnamon,” he says. He doesn’t believe in heavy spices – “I want to taste the true flavor of food, not hide it” – or heavy prices – “I don’t want to charge a lot of money for what I make. I give respect to the pocket and the stomach.”
Although his restaurant is small, it’s big enough for Tony to cater events of all sizes. His catering customers often ask him back, he says, “because I put my soul into cooking. Also, I do everything. Clients don’t do anything but enjoy the food.”
Not only did his father teach him how to bake, he also taught him to be a workaholic. Like his father, Tony works from early morning to late at night. “All the hard work is worth it when I see people enjoy my food, when they take a taste and go ‘oooooohh.’ That’s when I know I’ve succeeded,” says Tony.
“Greeks believe in success not by what you have, but by what is in your heart,” explains Tony. “When I’m (in Alaska) and working, my heart is full. I have a good life.”