Greek restaurant flourishing
RIDGELAND – Native Greek Despina Mangafakis strives to bring authentic Greek cuisine to the table and said she can’t thank her patrons enough for the love, support, and loyalty shown to her YiaYia's Greek Kitchen since 2017.
Mangafakis, her husband Stefano, and their daughter Chris run YiaYia’s at 587 Highway 51 in Ridgeland. Her family moved from their hometown of Rhodes, Greece, to Connecticut in 1973 and discovered how much they loved Mississippi whenever they visited their son Stephen here.
Mangafakis has owned and operated Greek restaurants for over three decades along with her five brothers who are all in the restaurant business. Yiayia’s is Mangafakis’ most recent establishment, and it is named “Yiayia’s” since it means “grandmother” in Greek.
“I grew up in Connecticut after my family moved here from Greece, and my son and his wife moved to Mississippi with their children around seven years ago,” Mangafakis said. “One day I talked with my husband and my daughter Chris, and we decided we needed to move to be with them and did so on Christmas Eve in 2016. We wanted to have a small restaurant here, but when we opened in 2017 it became so big and so good.”
Yiayia’s opened in July 2017 and recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Mangafakis said she wanted the business to be small, but enough to make a living from. However, on top of the restaurant becoming far more popular than she expected, she also fell in love with Mississippi more than ever. She said she has loved the state ever since she first visited, and that it is the best place to have a beautiful family.
She said there are two things that people in Mississippi know, and that’s how to live and what food to eat.
“I’ve seen people go out to eat, and if the quality isn’t there in the food, they’ll know. The people are another reason I stay here,” she said. “Everyone is so kind. I’ve seen couples come in here on dates and now they’re married with kids. I see people praying and thanking God for their food before they eat.”
This year, Yiayia’s received the 2022 Gold Award for Authentic Greek Cuisine by the International Organization “Greek Taste Beyond Borders” (GTBB) as an exemplary restaurant proven to represent and support authenticity of Greek Cuisine, with traditional and local recipes, utilizing pure, Greek traditional products.
“Everyone who comes here becomes family friends with us, and we treat them like family,” Mangafakis said. “I miss my friends and family from Connecticut, but the people here make me so happy.”
Chris Mangafakis recalled leaving Connecticut on Christmas Eve 2016 in three feet of snow, and said it was around 80 degrees when they reached Mississippi.
“We drove all the way down here and the trip was worth it,” Mangafakis said. “We love it here.”
Stefano Mangafakis said he grew up seeing how everyone knew each other in his village in Greece.
“It’s the same thing here,” he said. “Everyone knows each other here. I give free ice cream to the kids, and I walk around the tables and talk to everyone.”
Despina Mangafakis said she sees similar things at her restaurant that she saw back in her hometown of Rhodes, Greece, and feels very lucky to be in Mississippi and to have the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people.
“There are so many restaurants here in Ridgeland,” Mangafakis said. “So many people are driving through here, and they choose to come here. They make me feel so good and it makes me want to cry. We always have customers paying for someone else, and then the person they paid for pays for someone else. Last week we had a young man pay the check for a couple having an anniversary dinner, and the check came out to $125.”
“They are wonderful people, and every single one of those people deserve thanks, respect, and appreciation,” she said.
Yiayia’s is located at 587 Highway 51. They are open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and are closed on Sunday. For more information about the restaurant, visit www.yiayiasgreekkitchen.net, or call them at 601-853-1110.