At the table / Athena Kouimanis
Deft leadership and an informed vision are the hallmarks of Curly’s evolution
Kouimanis embraces her role as a woman leader in the restaurant biz.
Photos by kc kratt
Name: Athena Kouimanis
Current title: Owner/General Manager of Curly’s Bar & Grille; curlysgrille.com
Years in the business: 8
Previous employers: Black & Blue Steak & Crab, Marquis de Lafayette at the Hotel Lafayette, Acqua, and Foundry Suites
Formal education: Hotel Restaurant Management at Ohio University and Hospitality at ECC
At twenty-four, while most of her peers were still finding their ways to a career path, Athena Kouimanis became the owner of a beloved Southtowns restaurant, Curly’s Bar & Grille. Given her experience working several years in the business and earning a degree through Ohio University’s Hotel Restaurant Management program, Kouimanis believed she had the vision to evolve Curly’s into the modern restaurant it is today. In 2016, her efforts earned her recognition as one of Buffalo Business First’s 30 Under 30.
If you didn’t own Curly’s, what would you be doing instead?
I’d be running an animal rescue. Having already saved two dogs, animals have a special place in my heart. I have trouble seeing them without a home, food, or love.
Most people know Curly’s as that place near the Botanical Gardens offering Caribbean cuisine. With a change in ownership a few years back, how accurate is that today?
Curly’s is still the restaurant with Caribbean flair, but we have much more to offer. I consider Curly’s contemporary American cuisine with an emphasis on the ingredients and spices of the Caribbean. However, we have made significant improvements to the restaurant, with both the decor and the menu. I also think the improvements to our gluten-free dinner options are very significant.
What dish on the menu currently has your heart?
Our Thai curry with jerk chicken.
If you were to seat a VIP in the Curly’s dining room who would only ever have one meal there, what would you suggest they order and why?
I’d suggest they start with the Korean wings. They’re double fried for extra crunch, then tossed in a sticky sweet and savory Asian sauce. Or our black bean soup, which is perfectly creamy and served with sour cream, fresh onion, and a side of hot sauce to spice things up! I’d also suggest our signature Caribbean jerk chicken. It’s half of a twenty-ounce free-range chicken marinated in housemade jerk sauce. We bake it and then finish it on the grill before smothering it in our jerk glaze. It comes with coconut-steeped rice and beans. If they have room for dessert, I love the Ice Cream Tuile, which is our pecan praline cookie bowl filled with French vanilla ice cream, berries, housemade caramel and chocolate sauces, and fresh whipped cream.
How does Curly’s banquet side work with the dining room to create a healthy business model?
Banquets at Curly’s always bring new people through our doors, and that is an opportunity to offer an experience that makes them want to come back for a meal in our dining room. Our dinner and banquet menus are similar, so I always encourage someone interested in hosting a banquet with us to come sample options at dinner first.
The status of women in the restaurant business is cause for much discussion these days. What’s your take?
Being a woman in a leadership position in any line of business presents its own set of challenges. That said, I like to hear people having this particular discussion, and I encourage them to keep talking. Maybe soon they will realize that strong women have been the backbone of the restaurant industry for some time.
Who else in the business do you admire?
Denise Davison, who owned the Dock at the Bay for twenty-three years, has been my wise owl for over a year. She helps me behind the scenes at Curly’s and has been sharing her experience with food, the bar, and management.