Just like Rent the Runway’s co-founders, there are a ton of women who have leapt into the uncharted, often-insane world of entrepreneurship. We’re inviting these risk-takers to be part of a community we’re calling The Real Runway: a collection of voices to motivate and inspire your own runway, whatever that may be.
It all started with... a vacation.
They say be careful what you wish for. In Anastasia Koutsioukis’s case, that couldn’t ring more true. Anastasia and her now-husband, Ahmet, initially bonded over wanting to open a Mediterranean pension one day, with a garden and a small adjacent restaurant in the Aegean where they longed to be (she’s Greek, he’s Turkish). Until then, they lived and worked in New York City and hosted friends at their tiny apartment. They’d all huddle around their coffee table and eat home-cooked Greek and Turkish food. While on a Miami vacation, the two ventured off the beach and discovered the city’s local community. In a vacation daze, Anastasia said, “Oh, I could live here...” Then Ahmet pulled a fast one on her — he spontaneously signed a lease on a Miami property and surprised Anastasia with the news, saying, “Let’s open our dream restaurant.” So they moved and opened Mandolin Bistro in late 2009. Calling the restaurant a “hotspot” does not do it justice. From the fresh flavors to warm décor, it’s a true escape to an inviting Mediterranean home. It’s those loving traits that led Soho House to ask the couple to open outposts at their Miami Beach and Istanbul hotels. Here’s how Anastasia turned her daydream into reality.
What was your reaction to Ahmet’s spontaneous lease-signing?
It was a sink or swim moment. I was so taken when he said, “We have nothing to lose. Let’s just put our hearts into it and see what happens.” Having worked in fashion and beauty where details are so important, I was excited to put my own stamp on our place from the design of the space to the menu. It was a departure for me but it also felt similar. I thought, “What’s the worst-case scenario? It doesn’t work. We move back to New York and start all over again.”
Dress, Lela Rose; Earrings, Lizzie Fortunato
What was it like when you arrived in Miami?
We were nervous and excited! We didn’t know anyone and had cashed out to come here. But I remember sitting on our balcony with a cup of coffee, looking out at clear blue skies and palm trees in the middle of December and thinking, “This is gonna be okay.” So we stayed optimistic and slowly built our way up. I’m so happy we took our time because we worked through every obstacle and built confidence by getting to know our city and its community. We wanted to create a restaurant for locals.
Mandolin is a reflection of us. It’s our love story. How a Greek and a Turk can find harmony and similarity through food. The Aegean sea is where the Greek islands and Turkish coast meet. The people of this region share the same food and spirit — a simpler life with simpler things. Mandolin is about sharing these philosophies, our table, our culture and our stories.
How did people respond to yours and Ahmet’s idea?
A lot of people tried to discourage us. They’d say, “Miami won’t get it.” I think that coming here with a sense of naiveté and not knowing Miami gave me this idea of major possibility. So we really tried to embrace the community and we found that everyone in this city lives here for the same reason: we’ve chosen quality of life over anything else. We’ve chosen balance — urban life and beach life; the fun and crazy with the holistic and quiet. People do actually take the time to bond and support each other here. And food is the biggest bonding component of all. It brings people together instantly. There’s a sense of vulnerability when you’re breaking bread together and sharing stories over the table. We created a vibe that feels like you’re actually in someone’s home having a meal. I think with everything that was down with the economy when we opened, people wanted a place that you could go to and feel safe and comforted.
Earrings, Oscar de la Renta
What’s the best part of owning your own business?
The beauty of having your own business is that it’s ever-evolving, which keeps you creative. You have to stay humble, too, so that you keep improving on what you have, keep the challenge alive, and keep learning. Its hard work but it's so gratifying knowing you get to connect with people everyday.
I didn’t want to be just another restaurant. I wanted to create something that was unique to us. That’s what people are attracted to — individuals, their personal stories and authenticity.
What has been your biggest lesson?
The one thing that this whole experience has taught me is not how to run a restaurant, because I'm still learning how to do that, but it taught me that dreams do come true. Anyone and everyone is capable of living out their dream as long as you go for it and persevere. You have to do what your heart and instinct tells you opposed to going by a set of rules.
How has style factored into your life as a restaurateur?
I worked in the fashion and beauty industry before getting into the restaurant business. When I was young, I adorned my bedroom walls with fashion photography tears from my mom’s Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines. I guess I've always been attracted to beautiful things. I believe style is a reflection of who you are and that trickles into all areas of my life including my home and my restaurant. My go-to outfit at Mandolin is a pair of jeans with a basic top. Then I’ll bring in some edge and personality with my accessories and shoes, but every once and a while I love to glam up for a special party or event that we're hosting. Whether we're talking about an outfit or the flowers you choose for your table setting — its all about the details.
Style isn’t just about how you dress. I style and accessorize my home and business, too.
It’s no secret that the restaurant industry is male-dominated. Has that been your experience?
My husband tells people Mandolin is a “feminine brand.” I love that idea. If you ask any top chef in the world, they’ll always say their favorite meal is something their mother made or their grandmother made. There’s something to a feminine touch. There’s a sense of hominess that we bring to the environment that’s just instinctual, as well as a refinement and simplicity to a dish. Food is nurturing and women naturally have that quality. I don’t discount that men are fantastic in this, as well. This isn’t about man versus woman. I think you need both. When you’re in a male-dominated restaurant, you can feel a different edge. There's a little more ego. Any restaurant that has a good female to male ratio feels more balanced. You can feel the harmony and love.
Dress, Jill Jill Stuart; Cuff, Elizabeth and James; Earrings, Oscar de la Renta
You left your life in New York and started fresh. What’s the payoff?
I live for connecting with people that I otherwise wouldn’t have had an opportunity to meet. I love realizing how much I have in common with so many different people. I’ll bring my baby boy to work sometimes and having people genuinely care and ask about my family is incredible. It brings it all back to the basics of what life is really about. It’s about living a conscious life — what we put into our bodies, what we say, who we choose to be around. Miami and my restaurant have allowed me to understand that because it’s given me the time to breathe and truly find a sense of love and community.
Dreams are not about being lucky and being handed an opportunity. It’s not about fate or destiny. It’s about hard work and determination, believing in yourself and continuing to move forward.
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