Erini Executive Chef Nick Fifis believes dining out should be more than just a great meal; it should be an experience. In addition to cooking as the operator of the unique, breathtaking restaurant located up the hill and facing the Delaware in Ewing, New Jersey, Nick’s day-to-day routine also includes creating seasonal layouts, weekly specials and positive environments for all to enjoy.
A third-generation restaurateur, Nick rose through the ranks, first studying at the Culinary Institute of America before working for his father, Chris, an operating partner of the famed Ponzio’s diner in Cherry Hill, the staple that was started by Nick’s grandfather. Nick branched off and worked for various dining stops in the foodie city of Philadelphia, which included Adriatica (née World Fusion) where he was executive chef.
In 2007, along with his parents, he founded Erini, which means 'peace' in Greek, and is a term Nick turned into the overall vibe of the restaurant. “Positive energy loves company," says Nick, adding he wanted to make a trip to Erini “an experience, not just another place for a dinner."
The experimental journey started with “building a place where you can have a cocktail and live in the atmosphere, getaway, transport yourself,” says Nick. He says he drew inspiration from the ambiance of Miami's restaurant scene, then delivered a toned-down, tropical environment like nothing else in the area.
"Our positivity concept came from watching people and making them comfortable,” says Nick, who says he works to make every customer smile within minutes of arriving. He transports patrons beyond everyday life using his creative acronym “S.A.L.T.," which stands for sound, ambiance, light and temperature.
One of the restaurant's unique aspects is attention to detail, transforming into a different type of wonderland each season. The décor and diner-attentive additions, such as during fall serving apple cider around the fireplace, is one of many examples of this experience-driven business. “Being a destination restaurant, we need something different to lure customers over the bridge,” says Nick.
Internally, Nick proudly claims, “I say hello and goodbye to every employee, every day."
Nick is not a one-person show, as he has a dynamic all-female management staff consisting of Kyle Hillman, operations manager, and Laurie Piquero, general manager. Kyle has worked at Erini for 14 years. Both managers speak with the same excitement and enthusiasm about their love for their jobs and satisfying customers.
Nick shares proudly about Halloween, where Erini is transformed into fall and hosts the largest party in town, with more than 1,300 patrons saying farewell to the Tiki Bar as it's the last outdoor event of the year. Nick strongly recommends signing up on the Erini Facebook page to guarantee admission saying, “The party here is massive, and a well-oiled machine."
The menu selection at Erini offers a wide range of options, including gluten-free options, which Nick notes is there because he “wanted to have something for everybody." Though Mediterranean-based, coming from his Greek heritage and grandmothers’ recipes, the menu also includes options from Nick’s prior career in fine dining and options he’s created over time. "It’s traditional values with modern presentation,” says Nick.
Kyle notes one of the special dining events at Erini is “Lobster Weekends,” which typically takes place the third weekend of each month. Those weekends include having 300 pounds of fresh lobster brought in from Maine and sold on the same day. “Customers can call in to reserve their lobster. It’s been a big hit, and quantities are limited,” she says.
Erini has received several awards, including a three-time winner of the coveted Trip Advisor's “Traveler’s Choice” in which 10% of restaurants globally are selected. The majestic outdoor area features four uniquely designed patios. The Tiki Bar, the Tiki Garden, the Upper Patio and Grand Sophia Patio, the newest addition, featuring waterfalls and stonewalls, cut into the landscape.
“The comments we get routinely is it feels like you’re in the Caribbean on vacation,” says Laurie.
UNIQUE: A Tiki Bar done right is a fantastic addition to this already distinctive experience-based restaurant. The countdown to Tiki 2023 at Erini is on!
DETAILED: Chef Nick has his hand in everything, including planting lovely canna lily flowers every year and building much of the seasonal decor.
POSITIVE: Every facet of the restaurant spells positivity, all but guaranteeing a good time will be had by all.
"I firmly believe that having a great staff that follows the beliefs of positivity and service-first is paramount and a requirement to work at Erini. I want to provide an environment where customers can let go and lose themselves in the music, food and service.” ~Chef Nick
“We’re selling an experience, so we make it sexy.”