When Eleny and George Zeppos chose the name Mazi for their latest restaurant, they had no idea the dual meaning it would come to have.
"Mazi" is the Greek word for together, an apt descriptor for an establishment where people meet to share a meal or drink.
"It means together in people and life with your loved ones and friends," said George, crediting his wife, Eleny, for the concept. "To be together, eat together, live together.
"It's a very special name. When we think of a restaurant, we always want to be with people, be with our community and with amazing staff. That's really what makes a restaurant feel so special."
Great food and atmosphere don't hurt, either, and with its Greek-inspired menu and chic decor, Mazi was seemingly pre-ordained to become the new hip destination on Penn Avenue in West Reading.
But in the months before opening, the idea of togetherness began to take on added significance due to COVID-19.
Mazi was due to open in late April or early May before the coronavirus reared its head, delaying construction, shutting down dining rooms and continuing to limit occupancy indoors.
Despite all obstacles, the couple moved forward with their plans, and also with the confidence Berks County residents will show their enthusiasm.
"We're grateful we're doing it in this community," George said. "That's how we're going to get through this — together. By people coming out safely and supporting local workers here and everywhere."
Worth the wait
The Zepposes own and operate multiple restaurants in the area, including The Hitching Post in Bern Township and Willoughby's on Park in Wyomissing, so they had some inkling of what the response for Mazi would be like.
"There's challenges, but we've had so much love," said George, describing Mazi's opening weekend as "wonderful."
The restaurant held a soft opening the last weekend in August, followed by a full launch on Sept. 2.
It was a long time coming after work began on the former Bistro 614 in January.
Given the magnitude of the facelift, Mazi might as well be in a completely different building — or on another continent, as the aim was to make guests' visits feel like a trip to Europe.
"The granite work is impeccable," George said. "New furniture, wallpaper, lighting. The bar is completely new. There's a much better flow.
"But the most inspiring feature of this restaurant is the open-air window along the Avenue. It really gives the feeling, by day or by night, that you're in Europe, or just enjoying beautiful Penn Avenue and the energy it provides.
"There's a feel-good, energetic vibe to it."
What's on the menu
The menu is quite a departure as well, not only from Bistro 614 or for a vibrant West Reading dining scene, but from the Zepposes' other restaurants.
Both Eleny and George are children of Greek immigrants and have long desired to share their families' home cooking with Berks.
"It's deep in our hearts," Eleny said. "Our parents were born in Greece. We're first generation here. This is how we typically eat with our families, so it's coming from our hearts."
Modern takes on traditional dishes such as spanakopita — a Greek spinach pie — line a menu with land and sea items including chicken, steak, lamb, veal, salmon, mussels, scallops and Chilean sea bass.
And appropriately enough for a restaurant called Mazi, the shareable appetizers are big crowd-pleasers so far, the couple said.
"The mini gyros are our favorite," said George, noting the dish is made with actual lamb shank. "They're the real deal. The apps are just a lot of fun.
"Our whole menu really focuses on a lot of the seasonings and herbs and tastes of Europe that we're bringing here — lemons, oregano, sage, virgin olive oils."
Mazi also boasts a healthy wine list as well as Greek-inspired cocktails.
Labor of love
It bears mentioning that there is a decidedly upscale-casual feel about Mazi, with appetizers and salads starting at $12 and entrees starting at $24.
Between occupancy restrictions and a pandemic impacting some families' budgets, it might seem like a difficult time to launch a restaurant of this nature.
"We love this level of service in our restaurants," said George, joking that there's never actually a good time open a restaurant. "There's a little something for everyone on Penn Avenue. This is just adding another little something."
Mazi certainly is a unique enterprise, for both the immediate area and Berks at large.
"It's food we grew up eating, and it's food that we added a new twist and take on to provide to new generations of diners here," George said.
Clearly, it's a labor of love, too.
"We believe in it," Eleny said. "We believe the community needs something like this. We love what we do, and we're happy to bring our home to Berks County."