When we travel, we often visit places that we know from the tv or magazines. Sometimes we dream for many years until we find the possibility to make that journey come true. Some places have been in our minds since childhood.
The Cyclades Islands in southern Greece and more specific Santorini is, for sure, one of those places. Owning a restaurant or a hotel on Santorini would be the fulfillment of a dream for many people. But it isn't something for empty pockets.
The best location for a restaurant in Santorini is right on the cliff, overlooking the Caldera. Fira, Imerovigli, Firostefan, and Oia offer breathtaking views of the Caldera and the volcano.
"Fira," as the Greeks call Santorini, is one of the most marketable places in the world. The view over the Caldera has become an icon for the classic Mediterranean vacation. You can find the most memorable photos of Santorini in all magazines around the globe.
I spent a whole season personally on the Island years ago, and I will never forget the fantastic views and people's hospitality. I had the pleasure to arrive early and see the Island well before the season started, before the crowds overran the picturesquely contoured alleys.
Understanding the rhythm of the Island
Running a restaurant business or any other type of business on Santorini means that your economy depends 100% on the flow of tourists that visit this part of the Aegean Sea.
The more you understand this place's rhythm and how tourists move on the Island, the more you can get the idea of where to open your own business.
People spend all the year on the Island. But the majority come only to run their business during the summer. And so, somewhere in the middle of March, business owners and staff begin to arrive on the Island.
The mainland's connection is guaranteed over the winter by a few flights per week and the ferry from Piraeus - Athens. During that time, the island remains isolated, and the locals enjoy a kind of magic, quiet time spent with friends and family.
Enjoying the Easter week ceremony in Pyrgos has been one of the most beautiful experiences I ever had and will remain unforgettable for the rest of my life.
The start of the season
At the beginning of May, all of a sudden, the first cruise ship enters the Caldera and stops right in front of Fira, the main town, which appears from the sea level as a vision, with its facade of hotels and buildings.
Little transfer boats bring the groups of tourists from the cruise liner over to the small port, and from here, they can get up to the center thanks to a modern cable car. Many prefer the old fashion way to get there on the back of a donkey. But only a small group walks under their own power.
At the same time, charter-flights from all over Europe start arriving at the airport situated right next to Kamari, one of the Island's main tourist centers.
As well the port of Athinios starts getting busy. A regular ferry connection from Piraeus/ Athens guarantees that all the southern Islands are well connected over the summer season.
You can do Island hopping by starting from Athens and visiting famous places like Mykonos, Naxos, Pharos, and Santorini.
From May until the end of September, the Aegean sea becomes a magnet for tourists from all over the world!
There are few places in the world with such a significant influx of visitors in just a few days. It is unbelievable.
Many people fly to Mykonos and come to Santorini by ferry, and fly back home from here. But the other way round is possible, too. And there is also a connection from the largest Aegean island, Crete.
The most visited places
For the whole season, thousands of tourists come by plane and ferry, but as well by cruise liners, to explore the Island.
The main attraction is, of course, the Caldera of this volcanic Island. You can appreciate Fira's extraordinary views over the half-moon shaped bay during a boat trip to the two volcanic islands of Nea and Palea Kameni.
A visit to the world famous excavations in Akrotiri is a must. Here you can get an idea of how Santorini looked before the eruption in 1646 BC.
You'll find the so-called "Red Beach," another popular tourist attraction not far away from the excavation site.
On the top-ten list, there is, no doubt, a sundown aperitif in Oia. And here is the place to start looking for a good restaurant location. But as well, a visit to the center of Santorini is on the bucket list of many people. Don’t forget a visit to one of the many wineries.
The existing offer
Restaurants in Santorini offer a variety of different types of cuisine. So you'll find simple fish taverns, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, and traditional greek restaurants that are for sure the most visited by the tourists.
Dining with friends in one of Fira's tavernas on the Caldera side is unforgettable. The specific colors and Mediterranean decoration create a unique atmosphere on their own. The food makes the rest.
The traditional greek cuisine offers simple but delicious dishes. And so a diner starts always with a mixed greek salad, feta cheese, olives, and dips such as tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, and garlic), melitzanosalata (aubergine), fava (creamy split pea purée). And of course, the delectable taramasalata (fish roe dip), which is a must.
Continue with Dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice) and Moussaka eggplant- or potato-based dish, often including ground meat) before the main dishes are served.
Souvlaki and Gyros are the undisputed stars of the grilled lamb or pork scene. And of course, fish is the other prominent protagonist.
And for dessert, "sweet" is imperative, for example, Baklava, a flaky filo pastry with honey and groundnuts.
Of course, this is all topped with Ouzo (aniseed-flavored Greek liqueur) and wine. The best occasion for trying some of the many wines produced on the Island.
When the local, traditional food offer and the typical atmosphere create such a unique experience, any foreign food offer has a hard time establishing a reputation.
It would be best if you took this in mind when thinking of your offer. Food in the entire Mediterranean area is considered something more than just a meal. It is a way of life that brings people together and creates unique memories for those visiting the Cyclades.
Where to open a restaurant in Santorini
Santorini is a tiny Island. From north to south the Island measures approximately 20 km. However, there are several unique areas to take into consideration when opening a restaurant business.
Fira is the capital and economic center of the Island and the town with a significant offer on restaurants. With breathtaking views, the Caldera side is full of excellent tavernas, restaurants, and bars of every sort.
Here is where every visitor will have lunch or diner at least one time during their visit. But as well, breakfast or just enjoying a drink is a unique experience and opportunity.
Owning a business here is a privilege, but be careful when selecting a place to invest. As in any other place in the world, Fira has its unsavory corners where you are a few meters too far from the main flow.
So be always careful when in such a fantastic general location, someone sells a business in a specific spot. There must be a reason.
Anyway, Fira is more than just Caldera, and so there are opportunities to snag a great location in the center or any other part of the town. You should also consider Imerovigli and Firostefani, which are situated right north from Fira. You can walk to Imerovigli from Fira, right along the cliff of the Caldera.
Kamari is another spot on the Island to scout for a good location. Many hotels and a long promenade make it to a classic place to enjoy the beach during the day and have a nice walk after dinner. From breakfast through to diner and drinks, here you can create an all-round business if the location is right.
Perissa is just around the corner from Kamari Beach, but you must drive a long way back around the Mesa Vouno mountain to get there.
Perissa is a quieter place with fewer possibilities. However, it hosts a significant number of hotels and other infrastructures.
Oia is, without a doubt, the other giant magnet on the Island. Situated in the north-west, it offers a unique and unforgettable sundowner. As well as the Caldera side in Fira, Oia is a place where every visitor will stop when exploring this fascinating Island.
Walking through the main street in Oia is like entering a different dimension. All the shops and restaurants play classical music, and a surreal peace overcomes while you explore the beautiful souvenirs.
Every evening, hundreds of people come together in the western part of the town to enjoy the magic when the sun falls into the Aegean sea.
Oia is another place where owning a business is a privilege.
Santorini has many other locations that could fit with your dream business. Still, spots that are too removed from the main centers can be a real challenge because people must get to you on their own, and the competition within the main centers is enormous.
With that said, take your time and explore the Island to get a feeling. If you want to open a business in Santorini, you must see the Island during the season. There is no way to get a realistic idea before the tourists come.
Contacts that helps
Something you should take into consideration when opening a restaurant, especially in isolated places like Santorini, is to build a good relationship with the tour operators and agencies. Their representatives can make or break a business.
When those reps do the welcome meeting in their hotels, they give critical information to the new tourists who are hungry for local knowledge. A positive comment about your place can be quite significant.
People arrive from everywhere, everyday. The competition is significant and you need to stand above the competition. Offering a welcome menu to a few reps at the beginning of the season could be a gamechanger for you over the whole summer.
You can find out who they are very simply by having a look at the "info-boards" in the hotels or apartments next to your location.
Some interesting data
Santorini, which has a population of around 15,500 people, is visited by about 2milion visitors per year (cruise passengers not included) and is reachable by plane from many international airports.
Ferries are available from Piraeus and Rafina, as well as from Heraklion-Creta.
Every ferry coming from the mainland stops at different islands and offers island hopping adventures.
Other Islands that could be interesting to explore for your project are Naxos, Pharos, Ios, and Mykonos. But don't forget about Crete in the south, which is also a giant tourist magnet.
Crete is Greece's most oversized Island with a population of about 650.000 people. This Island offers an all year tourism experience. The ferry trip from Santorini to Heraklion is about 2,5 hours.
There are four main areas to explore when visiting the Island, which offers 650 miles of coastline. So, take your time and visit the main areas.
The Chania area offers a combination of Blue Flag beaches and a fascinating old town. The Heraklion area is probably the go-to late-night drink spot, while the Lassithi area is well connected to Agios Nikolaos and Elounda's cosmopolitan towns. And finally, the Rethymnon area is the perfect family destination.
Ios, Naxos, Pharos are destinations for those who want to avoid the crowds of the meccas such as Santorini and Mykonos. However, there is a type of tourist for every destination, and so you could find your perfect business in one of these more isolated Islands.
Naxos is, in my opinion, an excellent compromise. Not too small but not also not too overloaded like Mykonos and Santorini.
My advice is that you take a few days and visit these places by ferry.
You should explore some current offers on the internet and arrange some appointments to make the best out of the time while you are doing your Island hopping.
Owning a restaurant business in the Cyclades Islands is the dream of many. The Mediterranean atmosphere and the Greek way of life are a magnet for many foreign investors and entrepreneurs.
The possibility of living here all year long is a decision you have to consider carefully depending on your situation. Are you moving alone? Have you got a family?
Think it through and remember that the whole area is relatively isolated over the winter. However, connections to the mainland are guaranteed all year round.
As you can see there are many opportunities to consider. And think about how much fun you will have researching the possibility of owning your own restaurant in Santorini!