A twist on Aleka’s classics
Like many teenagers in high school, Walter Harriman worked at a restaurant waiting tables. Eighteen years later he is living out his culinary dream—running a food truck—with the full support of Aleka’s owner, Peter Kritziotis.
Aleka’s is a Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Plattsburgh that Kritziotis brought to the community 19 years ago. His goal was to provide fresh, gourmet Greek food to the area. After starting as a waiter, Walter is now the kitchen manager at Aleka’s, the Twisted Pita Cafe at Clinton Community College and, the Twisted Pita food truck, when in operation.
“I started working here in high school, went to college in 2006, was still working here over every break, then came back working for Peter again around four years ago,” Harriman says.
While studying culinary arts at Paul Smith’s College, Harriman did his capstone project on running food trucks in rural areas and gated communities.
“In big cities, food trucks aren’t a new thing,” Harriman says. “It’s fairly easy, so that’s why I chose to do it on how to run it in more rural areas.”
Harriman’s dream came to life in the summer of 2019 when he brought up the truck to Kritziotis, who was drawn to it immediately. To Kritziotis, constant innovation and the restaurant business go hand in hand. Thus the Twisted Pita food truck was born.
“This is his dream. It’s something I’ve thought of doing for a while because I came from the city,” Kritziotis says. “So when Walter brought it up, I was all for it. He did a whole project on it, so I thought it would be good to join forces.”
“We got 800 hits in just 24 hours after we posted about it on Aleka’s facebook page,” Kritziotis says. “People were already asking where they could get it, and what would be on the menu.”
Despite the support from the community, it wasn’t always easy during the truck’s inaugural operations last summer. Consistency was a problem for Harriman and Kritziotis.
“We tried a few different things, and found certain things didn’t work,” Harriman says. “It was challenging for us that some days we made only ten dollars, and some days we made a thousand.”
As the summer went on, the truck gained traction in Plattsburgh and neighboring areas in the county. They catered food to private parties and events at wineries, factories and birthday parties.
The truck’s popularity brought them another business opportunity. Clinton Community College did not have a dining service, and Harriman and Kritziotis were asked to take over the cafeteria. What was originally known as the Cougar Den became the Twisted Pita cafe.
It wasn’t always that easy. When Kritziotis first opened My Greek Kitchen, which later became Aleka’s, some patrons were unfamiliar with Greek food.
“When I first opened, people asked me if Greek food was all lamb,” Kritziotis says. “They asked if Greek food was spicy. No, it’s not spicy. What’s pita bread? Where’s my hamburger bun? But now they just come up to the truck and know exactly what they want.”
On the Twisted Pita food truck, the motto is anything and everything on a pita. They serve a twist on the food offered at Aleka’s as well as foods like hot dogs and chicken nuggets.
The second motto they follow is, shop local and eat local. On the side of the truck are the names of the local businesses that helped get the truck started. They include food suppliers D&D Meats in West Chazy, NY and local business JP Signs in Chazy, NY.
As the weather warms up, Aleka’s, the Twisted Pita cafe and the Twisted Pita food truck kick into high gear.
“When all of them are in business, I wake up at six in the morning, and some days I don’t come home until 2:30,” Harriman says. “But every night, the customers keep coming. Working under fire is when I have fun without even thinking about it. Sometimes I get home, I’m tired, I’m stressed out. But I wake up the next day and start it all over.”
Lucky for both Harriman and Kritziotis, even when the going gets stressful, they have each other.
“Walter is a hardworking man,” Kritziotis says. “I have been in this business for 35 years. I’m kinda taking a step back. I can’t do what I used to do anymore. Walter is my strength now.”
The restaurant business is an embodiment of “you snooze, you lose.” It is ever-changing, it is unpredictable and it is competitive. But when ambitious business partners come together, both with experience and passion, it is a recipe for success.