Downtown: A family tradition continues on Main Street
Angela Smith, right, assistant manager at the Gyro House, chats with customers at the new downtown restaurant on Friday, February 14, 2014.
ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff
Theodora Hinxhia, the owner of Gyro House, works behind the counter at the new restaurant on Friday, February 14, 2014.
ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff
Theodora Hinxhia, the owner of Gyro House, keeps a photograph of her visiting a castle in Bezak, Albania close to her heart. "I'm proud of where I came from," she said of her Albanian roots.
ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff
She worked in her grandmother’s restaurant in her native Albania, in the kitchen where she learned to cook, in what she said was the biggest hotel restaurant in the city.
She worked in her brother’s restaurant on Pleasant Street, in the city where she moved 15 years ago upon her arrival to the United States.
Now, finally, Theodora Hinxhia has her own restaurant. And last week, as she sat in a booth at the new Gyro House at 58 N. Main St., she talked about the family that inspired her passion for food and the menu at the downtown eatery.
“My family all the time liked good food,” Hinxhia said. “It makes me feel great to go out there and make people know our food.”
Hinxhia’s voice is soft, her English slightly accented. Now 47, she moved to the United States from Albania in 1999, leaving a country that had been torn by civil unrest for a quieter, safer life. In Albania, she earned a degree to be a vet but found a passion for food while working with her grandmother – her “yiayia,” the Greek term Hinxhia used.
“I learned from the dishwasher people,” she said of her grandmother’s restaurant. “I learned from the big chefs.”
In Concord, she raised a daughter, who is now 27. And she worked at her brother Remi Hinxhia’s pizzeria and restaurant, Remi’s Place on Pleasant Street.
“Me and Remi, we are brother and sister at home,” she said. “When it comes to working together, we did teach each other. I can’t ask for a better brother and a better business partner.”
But she has dreamed for years of opening her own place. When a customer ducked out of the snow and stepped up to Hinxhia’s counter last week, her smile was proud and welcoming. Her dark shoulder-length hair was pulled back with a plastic flowered headband, her white shirt covered by a dark apron. He ordered a gyro, which Hinxhia made herself.
“Main Street has needed a place like this for so long,” Christian Economides, 28, told her. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of me.”
In the narrow restaurant, a green menu board lists entrees Hinxhia ate as a girl, dishes she prepared in her grandmother’s restaurant. It’s a spread of Mediterranean appetizers like taboule, gryos with different meats or vegetables and homemade desserts like baklava. She wants Concord natives to taste her own culture, to “trade experiences,” she said.
“I love the smiley faces when they see the plate,” Hinxhia said. “I want them to tell me my food is not just good. It’s excellent.”
If her grandmother was still alive to sit down at a table by the Gyro House window and look out on Main Street, Hinxhia knows what she would order. A gyro with lamb. The meat is seasoned with rosemary, a favorite herb of both women. Stuffed grape leaves, of course. Then a bowl of avgolemono soup, a Greek specialty made with lemon, egg and chicken.
“I hope she’s proud of me,” Hinxhia said of her grandmother. “She used to say, ‘Remi, you have to be a doctor. Theodora, you got to be a teacher.’ . . . But we both ended up in the kitchen.”
The Gyro House is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call 219-0559 for more information.
Music festival saved
The Granite State Music Festival will stay in Concord this summer, thanks to large donations from Parker Academy and several downtown businesses.
When Executive Director Scott Solsky launched a fundraising campaign for the festival at the end of January, he needed to raise at least $8,000 to cover his costs in Concord this year. If he couldn’t meet that goal, the festival would have relocated to Manchester or another city.
But because local sponsors stepped up, Solsky said the festival has the money to pay for its traditional venue at the Kiwanis Riverfront Park, along the Merrimack River near Everett Arena. Those sponsors include Parker Academy and Concord businesses such as Orange Leaf, Lincoln Financial, Gibson’s Bookstore, the Barley House, New To You, True Brew Barista and Hermanos Cocina Mexicana.
“It was great for us to see that so many people wanted to see us stay,” Solsky said. “The board never wanted to move the festival.”
The festival also owed a debt of $3,459 in police fees to the city from last year’s event. Solsky said that outstanding balance would now be paid.
“The city of Concord has really been great to deal with,” Solsky said. “They’ve worked really hard at trying to keep us in Concord as well. They certainly see the value of the festival.”
This summer will be the festival’s third in Concord.
“It was important to us that we maintain the good things that we’ve done in the years past,” Solsky said. “We’re keeping the same sound and stage. We’re keeping the same quality.”
The festival will be held June 21-22 at the Kiwanis Riverfront Park. Solsky said tickets and information on the lineup will be available online at granitestatemusicfest.org.
Council to discuss Main St.
The Concord City Council will meet again tomorrow to discuss the Main Street project and its future.
The council will consider several recommendations from city staff on how to proceed with the project – including doing construction during the day, instead of at night as originally planned, and allowing the contractor to close more downtown parking. Also on the table is the proposed snow-melt system for downtown sidewalks.
Carlos Baia, deputy city manager for development, said in an interview last week that those changes could help the city find a company to do the work at a reasonable price. Two attempts to bid the construction project have produced only one bid each, and each time that offer came in nearly double the city’s budget.
“I would say (city staff has) talked to about a dozen contractors in the region, and their impression is that there is still interest if the project can be made a little bit simpler,” Baia said.
The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. tomorrow in council chambers.
Happy Presidents’ Day
Trash pickup stops for no man – rather, for no president.
City offices and the Concord Public Library are closed today for Presidents’ Day, but trash and recycling will be collected as usual.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)