HARKER HEIGHTS — Frank Beqiri’s road to restaurant ownership was filled with many obstacles.
He escaped from communist Albania in 1990 when he was 22 and spent the next several months in a refugee camp in former Yugoslavia.
“People were dying everyday, and I wanted better,” he said. “In my country, you couldn’t say what you wanted or you would go to jail. It was bad.”
Despite the hardships he endured in his youth, Beqiri said he is now living the American dream. His family’s newest business venture is the Acropolis, a Greek restaurant he opened with his wife, Jonilda Beqiri, and her brother, Arios Geci.
The restaurant, which opened Jan. 31, serves authentic Greek cuisine at 360 W. Central Texas Expressway.
In a food scene dominated by TexMex, burgers, barbecue and pizza, the family wanted to bring some new and fresh flavors to the table.
“We invite you to stop by and come enjoy a Greek food experience,” Jonilda Beqiri said. “Our chefs prepare our meals with only the finest and freshest ingredients, and everything is made daily and from scratch.”
The Beqiris owned and operated Little Italy in Killeen for 15 years. Frank Beqiri has been in the food business for 24 years.
“When I first came to this country in 1991, I worked as a dishwasher from 11 in the morning to 4 in the morning,” Frank Beqiri said about starting from “ground zero” in New York. “Then, I would take the bus home, sleep for three hours and start again. After about six months, I became a line cook and dreamed of opening up my own place. You can accomplish anything if you work for it.”
Growing up, he said he never aspired to be a cook but has vivid memories of his mother cooking in the kitchen. Many of his restaurants’ recipes were passed down to him from her and some came from his days as a cook in the Albanian military.
Determined to open a place of his own, and with a steep real estate market in New York, Frank Beqiri reached out to friends and family in Texas and opened his first place dishing up Italian fare.
“I am from Albania, and our cuisine is very similar to Greek and Italian food,” he said. “If I opened an Albanian restaurant here, people wouldn’t be very familiar with the cuisine. But Italian and Greek is more customer friendly.”
He said opening a restaurant is the easy part, but keeping one open is tricky.
“I appreciate all the support we have gotten since we opened; everyone, so far, has left happy and satisfied, and we have seen a lot of repeat business,” he said.
The Harker Heights restaurant is in the space once occupied by Cheeburger Cheeburger, but it no longer resembles the former tenant.
“I did all the work in here myself,” Frank Beqiri said.
He laid the hardwood floor, added stone accents to the walls, and created bench-style seating.
“We wanted to give people a different atmosphere with a nice ambience, so they could eat and relax.”
The Acropolis menu features Greek specialties like mousaka, layers of potatoes, eggplant and ground beef in a bechamel sauce; pastitsio, a Greek lasagna; kofta, Greek style meatballs; and beef, lamb and chicken gyro wraps.
All menu items are served with homemade pita bread, tzatziki sauce, and a choice of sides, salads and soups.
Younes Halabi, a Heights resident and owner of Papa’s Cafe, has eaten at Acropolis at least three times a week since it opened.
“I always order the lentil soup, the lamb shanks — when they have them — or the chicken riganati,” he said “I appreciate what they are doing here, because it’s something different and very similar to the food I grew up eating.”
Dining with him Wednesday was his daughter Nora, 7, and his niece Zeina, 7.
“I really like the chicken and dipping it in the hummus,” Zeina said. “I would rather eat this than McDonald’s.”