Interview: Vas Annaastasiou
As Gardies turns 50, TABATHA LEGGETT talks to manager VAS ANNAASTASIOU about drunk students, art exhibition plans and aphrodisiacs.
WATCH: The Tab‘s Word on The Street
Vas Annaastasiou, owner of Gardi’s and life coach to thousands of students, is potentially the coolest man in the world. Within moments of meeting Vas, he’s wearing my very tight Tab t-shirt (which he wanted to keep), telling jokes and offering me general life advice. I love him.
“Everyone comes to me when they have problems,” he assures me. “I think it’s because I’m older, I have kids, and students get to know me over the three years they spend in Cambridge. People see me every week; I’m like a fatherly figure. Students ask me for advice about everything from girlfriend and boyfriend problems to their thoughts about leaving Cambridge because of the stress.”
But, student qualms aren’t all Vas deals with, and I wonder whether life in Cambridge’s most-loved kebab house can ever be stressful. Can serving kebabs to drunken students day-in-day-out really be fun? “Of course!” Vas tells me. “I love it. People respect me, and it’s a civilised place. I love the adrenaline of working here.”
But, have drunken students ever caused him any trouble? “I’ve worked here for 20 years, and I’ve never encountered any problems,” he told me. “I’ve never had to go to a police station.
“We have funny, drunken stories every night. Girls often flash and boys take their trousers down. But in a nice way.
“If you look at the pictures on the walls here, you will see that everyone loves Gardi’s. Everyone looks happy and is smiling. They all have happy faces. You can tell me that this is because they are drunk, but it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re drunk and happy.” Good man.
So, just what is the secret to Gardi’s success? “Gardi’s is a traditional monument. It never changes, regardless of age or time. Cambridge has looked the same for the last 900 years. Gardi’s has had the same menu for 50 years. Everyone likes continuity. What’s more, all of our foods are traditional, and they taste good.
“We use herbs and spices. Most restaurants use salt and pepper and maybe parsley. But, we use so much more.”
And what is the most popular food? “Chicken,” Vas tell me. “Or tzatziki. Our tzatziki is an aphrodisiac.”
It soon becomes clear to me that Vas is not interested in making lots of money. He is passionate about his job, he loves Cambridge and its students, and wants to maintain Gardi’s just as it is. “We sell food because of the quality of both the food and the service. Nothing else. We never market ourselves or offer discounts,” he explains.
Strange as it may sound, Gardi’s do have massive potential for development. After all, Vas owns photographs of lots of Cambridge’s celebrity alumni enjoying a cheeky kebab (Stephen Fry, Zadie Smith, David Baddiel and Michael Portillo, to name but a few).
“Loads of big newspapers have approached us asking for the pictures, but I don’t want to disturb anyone’s private life, so I won’t sell them,” Vas explains.
So, what is he going to do with all these photos? “We want to have an exhibition in London,” Vas tells me. “In 2004, we counted 6,000-7,000 photographs. If this plan ever went ahead, we’d give the money to charity.”
2004 was a tough year for Gardi’s, since the University wanted to shut it down in order to build more student accommodation. Thankfully, Gardi’s has a pretty loyal fan base. “We gathered 9,000 signatures asking for us not to be closed down,” Vas told me. “That shows how much people appreciate us. It really touched me and made me smile. Gardi’s is my home – it’s magic here.”
What brought Vas to Gardi’s? “I was working as a genetic engineer,” he told me. “I worked in a laboratory, and I worked at Gardi’s part time. When the manager left, I was asked if I wanted to run Gardi’s. I said: no, I want to own Gardi’s. Five years later, I bought it.”
See what I mean? Vas is just lovely. Hence, I left my awkward question until last.
“Um. Remember that time when Gardi’s only got one star (out of five) on their hygiene inspection?” I muttered. “What did you think about that?”
“I wasn’t working at Gardi’s at the time, because I wasn’t well; I was suffering from depression. And I sacked the manager who was working in my absence as soon as I heard the news. When I came back, four days later, we were re-evaluated and achieved four stars. For an old building, that’s very good.”
Excellent. So there really is no excuse to go anywhere but Gardi’s next time you’re drunk and hungry.
Photography by Will Seymour