Tag Archives: organic

Little Neck actor finds business success in Astoria

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Images Courtesy of Johnny Solo

Actor Johnny Solo is starring in many different roles in Astoria.

The 39-year-old Little Neck resident is the co-owner of three establishments in the western Queens neighborhood, two of which opened in the past few months.

The first of the trio, Grand Café located at 37-01 30th Ave., was started eight years ago and opened for brunch because “there weren’t that many options [on 30th Avenue] back then.”

The corner café has since attracted guests wanting indoor or outdoor seating for all meals of the day.

Then an idea for a new establishment came after an unfortunate circumstance of a partner’s wife being diagnosed with breast cancer, causing the team to change their lifestyles and eating habits to all-organic. She has since recovered.

“It started to slowly go into our lifestyle,” Solo said. “Once you get into the lifestyle, you don’t feel like you’re missing anything. We said that we are enjoying this so much, why don’t we build it in the back room of Grand Café.”

Two months ago organic juice and smoothie shop Ginger opened its door in what used to be Grand Café’s private events back room. Ginger offers all-organic smoothies and cold-pressed juices bottled on site, salads, kale chips and much more.

“The idea was to make the most flavorful, all-organic natural juices and smoothies, but also similar to what Starbucks did, make it the most comfortable, coolest place,” Solo said about the interior design of the shop, which features a large cushioned seating area, benches, antique decorations and walls made up of recycled wood.

Ginger also offers organic liquors, wines and champagnes. The shop provides customers with juicing programs, ranging from one- to three-day options. Juices come packaged in recycled cardboard six-pack beer containers.

The shop’s items will soon be fully available on the Grand Café’s menu as Solo looks to give customers “healthier options.”

“We feel the way we changed the landscape with Grand Café, we feel now a decade later we will change the landscape again,” Solo said. “Part of our job now is reaching out and make [customers] understand. I don’t feel you’re really juicing if you aren’t going organic.”

Together with working on his acting career, during which he has starred in movies and television series such as Law & Order, and this September will debut a film he produced, Solo also co-owns Republic located at 33-29 Astoria Blvd.

The bar, which opened in April, is located at the site of a former wholesale meat packing warehouse and its menu features a Nutella calzone, salads, cocktails and “fun” pizza with names such as “The Queen,” Cherry Jackson!” and “Killa Kale.”

Opened Tuesdays through Sundays starting at 6 p.m., Republic offers music from DJs, screenings of artistic documentaries and the excitement even stretches to the unisex bathroom where patrons can pick up a piece of chalk and write all over the walls.

The exterior and interior of the bar also feature artwork from Brooklyn graffiti artist B.D. White.

“The locals were very happy because nothing was here,” Solo said. “[Republic] is building slowly.”



An old world organic kitchen

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Bradley Hawks


Alexander Dimitrov, the chef-owner of Trakia, which recently opened in Astoria, is hoping guests will come for the organic pizza, but then return for one of his authentic Mediterranean dishes roasted in the brick oven — or for the pizza again. There is a whole lot going on in this new kitchen, and Dimitrov is no newcomer to the industry. He is the owner of Mehanata on the Lower East Side.

While Trakia has no aspirations of becoming a Bulgarian nightclub and vodka-tasting den, it does plan to showcase a laid-back, brick oven approach to cooking far more than just pizza.

The intention for Trakia is simply to bring organic, authentic, casual Mediterranean cooking to 30th Avenue, in a relaxed setting with a somewhat eccentric atmosphere. The décor features much of Dimitrov’s own woodwork, as well as a hand-sculpted aquarium built into the wall, which showcases a mosaic of tchotchkes, running from a miniature Tinker Bell figurine to a manger scene with Mary and Joseph. Three wise monkeys sit perched at the top.

The real object of our affection is the extensive range of menu items. Marijan Begani heads up the pizza station, where pies are topped with everything from homemade pockets of chicken ravioli, to a dessert pie smeared with Nutella and topped with grapes and a blend of berries.

Though Dimitrov is Bulgarian, the restaurant name is a reference to a United Europe, as the menu reflects. Stoneware dishes are used to bake shopski salads — like a Greek salad topped with creamy feta and a whole egg. Lahmacun and pides come steaming from the oven — pastry boats filled with a variety of ground meats, including traditional ground lamb. Whole eggplants and butternut squashes are lightly brushed with oil, dusted with salt and slow-roasted near the open flames. Mici (called Meech on the menu) arrive like Romanian sausages tucked into a warm pocket of lapinja (a Bosnian bread) that has been freshly made and hand-dipped into bone broth before being baked. Sasljik (shishkabobs) arrive on a wooden stand that displays the grilled meat and vegetables like dueling swords.

Oh, and they are making a Caesar salad pizza, and a taco pizza, as well.

“We have a lot more ideas we want to try out,” chuckles manager A.J. Dracic, who hopes they will sell enough pizza and Mediterranean food to sell both. So far, clientele seems very Eastern European, which comes as no surprise on a ten-block stretch of 30th Avenue that averages a pizzeria on every corner, including a few brick ovens. “But no one else is selling organic, gluten-free options,” explains Dracic. “Ideally, we want to be accessible to everybody.”

If you cannot find a chance to stop by their storefront next to Mini Star Diner at Steinway and 30th Avenue, they have a whole brick oven set up all summer long at the LIC Flea, where guests can order their wood-fired pizzas.

38-14 30th Ave., Astoria