PROFILE: Spyros Gravas Brings A Worldly Mix To College Dining
UC’s Food Service director adds an international flair to the menus at UC’s residential restaurants.
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Dottie Stover
Months before the Jan. 30 grand opening of UC’s newest residential restaurant, the menu was in place for CenterCourt, the new all-you-care-to-eat restaurant in the Campus Recreation Center. More recently, Spyros Gravas has been putting in long hours with the CenterCourt ARAMARK staff, adding final touches and making last-minute checks before the doors first opened to diners on Jan. 17. Gravas is ARAMARK’s food service director at UC’s CenterCourt, and is also assisted by food service director Mike Toppin.
Gravas says the residential restaurant is themed around the concept of the Rec Center, noted for its architecture, energy and futuristic flair. The restaurant will feature seven different taste stations and will have a Mongolian grill and brick oven for fresh-baked breads and pizzas, daily international-style food selections, vegan and vegetarian-style offerings, traditional diner-style selections and home-style cooking. The restaurant will also offer continuous weekday service and later hours in response to student demand and the MainStreet philosophy for an active and vibrant campus both day and night.
Gravas also is the innovator of the “World on Your Plate” days at the award-winning MarketPointe at Siddall, which twice a month provides an entire menu modeled around an international theme. That included last year’s “Italian Food Serenades,” with homemade lasagna, ravioli, chicken piccata and fresh cannolis, and October’s “Cincinnati German-American Heritage Day,” featuring goetta, sauerbraten and apple strudel pizza – all at a discount for students, faculty and staff. Gravas adds those special event days resulted in a 20 percent increase in MarketPointe diners.
Don Heinrich Tolzmann, curator of the UC German Americana Collection in University Libraries and director of UC’s German American Studies Program, was among the MarketPointe diners who got a flavorful sampling of the German heritage celebration. Nearly 20 years earlier, Tolzmann led the national campaign in 1986 to get Oct. 6 declared as National German American Day and to have the resolution passed by Congress, which occurred in 1987.
“These internationally themed events, such as MarketPointe’s German-American Heritage Day, combine great menus with music, displays and cultural information, and are a great contribution to campus life,” Tolzmann says. “Spyros really goes out of his way to create events that contribute to multicultural understanding.”
“These special events translate into surprises, adding excitement and value to the menu,” Gravas says.
Born and raised in Greece, Gravas’ first experience in the United States was in 1997, when he started on his master’s degree in hospitality management and his MBA from the University of Houston. Before coming to Cincinnati, he served as director of restaurants for the Flamingo Hotel, the most famous hotel in Las Vegas. He says his move to Cincinnati was a family decision, after his wife, Assistant Economics Professor Claude Lopez, joined the University of Cincinnati.
Gravas says he first worked for restaurateur Jeff Ruby in Cincinnati, opening the Coconut Grove Restaurant in Newport, Ky., and then the Belterra Casino Restaurant. Two former associates from his experience in fine dining have joined Gravas to design concepts for UC’s residential restaurants, Chef Manager Kiril Galovovitch and Assistant Director Ian Sroufe. Also assisting with the opening of UC’s newest residential restaurant, CenterCourt, is Executive Chef Philippe Audax.
Among seven distinct taste stations, CenterCourt will feature “World Series,” which will offer international cuisine on a daily basis. “We want to create both a flavorful and cultural experience for our customers, piquing their interest, awareness and curiosity,” Gravas says.
It’s a standard that exemplifies why UC is a national leader in its approach to college dining.