Moving to America's Finest (and nearly most-expensive) City with the expectation of starting a group of successful restaurants may seem like a story based in mythology, but for brothers Raymond and Patrick Davoudi, it's been a California Dream come true.
"I moved to San Diego a little over five years ago and didn't have a single friend here," says Raymond, who, along with Patrick, opened Meze Greek Fusion in the Gaslamp in 2012. "I have been lucky enough to meet so many amazing people who have helped me get where I am today, along with the amazing support from the community."
Where Davoudi and Co. are today is a whole lot further along than most aspiring restaurateurs would hope to be after such a short stint in the biz. Meze, which has won critical acclaim for its Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, has also managed to bite off a chunk of the nightlife scene. When the lights go down and skillets of flaming shrimp illuminate the interior surroundings (think ancient-Greece-meets-modernity - with four-foot replicas of Julius Caesar-era gold coins spinning above the bar), the place keeps rolling as a late-night lounge... sometimes until 4 a.m.
"We treat our guests to the best customer service and highest quality of food and ambiance - and we're rad," says Patrick, with a wry smile.
The jovial vibe at Meze is pervasive and contagious. And despite the nail-biting pitfalls newbie restaurant owners face, success came to the Davoudis in short order.
"When we had been open less than a year, I remember one weekend evening - I was standing at the bar and looked around the restaurant, and there was not an open seat in the house, and we had a wait list 45 minutes long," says Raymond. "The belly dancer was performing, and everyone was having an amazing time. I looked over at Patrick and said, 'Wow, look at this place. We did it, bro.' The experience made me tear up."
With the continuing help of friend and now business partner Aleko Achtipes (corporate chef), Raymond launched ZOE Food & Beverage in 2015. At first, the fledgling company existed to supply Meze and its catering business with imported foods, wines and delicacies from Europe and the Mediterranean. Today, ZOE imports products from more than 11 countries, and then distributes those products to more than 100 restaurants across Southern California.
"Every day presents a different challenge and opportunity to rise to the occasion and present and perfect our products," says Achtipes, who helped evolve the menus for Meze (and its new satellite/sister restaurant, Saganaki by Meze, at Liberty Station) and oversees operations for ZOE.
In early 2016, Raymond brought hospitality-industry veteran Joe Santos (former general manager of downtown's famed Café Sevilla) on-board to help propel and manage expansion opportunities. In March of this year, Raymond and Santos unveiled El Chingon, a Mexican restaurant on Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp. The place was an instant hit and now lures legions of taco and nightlife fans into a high-energy atmosphere that, like Meze, adds DJs and performers to the mix nightly.
El Chingon's slogan, Making Mexican Great Again, adorns the restaurant's T-shirts, which have been selling like hotcakes. Make that tacos.
The next concept the team will open is one Santos has long dreamed of: Havana 1920, a Cuban-inspired restaurant and lounge adjacent to El Chingon and upstairs from the popular subterranean speakeasy Prohibition, which the group acquired in 2017.
The rapidly growing roster of venues - Meze, ZOE, El Chingon, Prohibition, Saganaki by Meze and Havana - needed a name, so Raymond came up with one that captures the group's hero-status aspirations: GBOD Hospitality (Go Big Or Die).
Today, GBOD has more than 150 employees, and that number is on the rise. As for what's next for the principals... "At this point in life, I would like to slow down and start to smell the flowers by spending time with my family and friends, although with everything going on, it's going to be hard to do that for a little while longer," says Raymond. "I really would love to meet a woman, fall in love and get married. I can't wait to raise a family."
Achtipes has no intention of slowing down - and points out that Raymond typically claims he's ready for a break right before embarking on the next big project.
"Personally, I look forward to GBOD doing our own Greek food festival in San Diego, with portions of profit going to local charities," Achtipes says. "Beyond that, I anticipate another Meze in North County within a couple of years' time."
THE GBOD HOSPITALITY TEAM
RAYMOND DAVOUDI, 34
President and CEO
Birthplace: San Jose
Current neighborhood: Gaslamp
PATRICK DAVOUDI, 31
Birthplace: San Jose
Current neighborhood: Hillcrest
JOE SANTOS, 41
Chief Operating Officer
Birthplace: Mayaguez, Puerto Rico
Current neighborhood: Eastlake
ALEKO ACHTIPES, 47
Birthplace: Athens, Greece
Current neighborhood: El Cajon
JOSUE CAMEJO, 38
Director of Operations
Birthplace: Las Palmas de Gran
Current neighborhood: Hillcrest
GBOD HOSPITALITY VENUES
MEZE GREEK FUSION
345 Sixth Ave., Gaslamp
Greek-fusion dishes with a focus on small plates (aka "mezes" in Greek). Meze uses fresh, authentic ingredients imported from Greece and features an extensive Greek wine list.
560 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp
"Bad Ass Mexican" restaurant and bar featuring Mexican classics, like tacos and burritos, and focusing on quality tequila cocktails. Slogan: Making Mexican Great Again.
SAGANAKI BY MEZE
2820 Historic Decatur Rd., Point Loma (at Liberty Station's Liberty Public Market)
Sweet and savory flaming Saganaki dishes (prepared in small frying pans), plus fresh salads, wraps and small
548 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp (next door to El Chingon)
Prohibition-era Cuban cuisine and Cuban-inspired cocktails. Coming to the Gaslamp this summer.
PROHIBITION SAN DIEGO
Founded 2009 (acquired by GBOD Hospitality in 2017)
548 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp (beneath the soon-to-be Havana 1920)
ZOE FOOD AND BEVERAGE
Wholesale importer and distributor of specialty foods and beverages including beer, wine, spirits, olives, oils, spices, coffees, cheeses and other European and Mediterranean products.