MEET THE CHEF
History in the Making from 2014 (Chestnut Hill Local)
When business partners George Drakopoulos and Nathaniel Monk, both in their early 30s, decided that they wanted to open a café in a major metropolitan area, they knew that Philadelphia would be their best bet. So every weekend, George and Nathaniel, current Mt. Airy residents who met when they were both students at Stockton University in South Jersey, would hop on a train from New Jersey to Philadelphia and walk through different commercial corridors until they found the one that best fit their business model.
Malelani Café, their 24-seat restaurant, opened its doors on Sept. 5, 2014, at 6734 Germantown Ave. in West Mt. Airy. Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between, Malelani is a BYOB that serves fresh, healthy, reasonably priced Mediterranean and American cuisine, coffee and espresso and Pekoe Sip House Teas in a casual, homey environment. Malelani is a South African word that means “the place of palms.”
“We searched all over and found this great historic corridor in Mt. Airy with the demographics we were looking for,” said Nathaniel. “Mt. Airy is a very diverse neighborhood with a ton of people who are interested in the arts and their community. There’s green space here, too, which gives the neighborhood a mixed urban and suburban feel.”
George added, “After seeing this area and location, we felt there was a need for a café.” George’s family has owned and operated the original Malelani Café in Ventnor City, NJ, for seven years.
George, who is of Greek descent, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and emigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1998. His mother Cecilia is a nurse, and his father Dimitri was a bookie in South Africa, taking bets on horses. (Betting is legal in South Africa, and bookies are licensed).
Because his father couldn’t continue his profession in this country, he started working for George’s godfather, who owns a restaurant on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Dimitri eventually opened his own restaurant, where George got a lot of practical business experience at a young age.
After he graduated from Stockton with a degree in business and hospitality, George went back to South Africa for five months and worked in a couple of cafés. “When I came back, I had the idea to open a café. I bought an espresso machine and it sat on my table for about two and a half years before I found the location in Ventnor City.”
Nathaniel is originally from Trenton and has a degree in professional business management from Stockton College. He worked in the golf industry for a while and then became certified as a kindergarten to 12th grade teacher. He taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grades for four and a half years and then began looking for something more.
“At Malelani Café, we make everything from scratch in-house,” said Nathaniel. “If you come in and we’re out of a product or two, don’t worry; we’ll take care of you with what we have. We buy produce at A&N, right down the road in Germantown. We’re not in a position to buy bulk, so I shop every day.”
On the menu are such items as “The Dusk,” made with fresh herb chicken salad, avocado, bacon, romaine lettuce and tomato served on whole grain ciabatta bread for $9.99; a Mediterranean Veggie Panini with hummus, tomato, spinach, roasted red pepper, onions, mushrooms and balsamic vinaigrette, also for $9.99; an Halloumi Salad for $9.50 featuring baked halloumi cheese, sliced avocado tomato, cucumber, onion, and croutons over romaine with warm multi grain pita, etc.
George and Nathaniel are also both committed to promoting artists and musicians. Malelani features ongoing exhibits by local artists, an open mic night for musicians, poets and other performers every Thursday beginning at 7:30 p.m., and frequent concerts.
Katherine Rondeau, a singer/songwriter came from Burlington, New Jersey, to perform solo at Malelani Café on July 31. “I participated in four open mic nights before my solo performance,” she said. “What I love about playing there is that it’s a warm and inviting space for artists of all kinds.”