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Yanni’s celebrates 20 years of excellent cuisine

Yanni and Denise Pihas in one of their restaurant’s patio areas. (photo by David Barak)

Yanni’s celebrates 20 years of excellent cuisine

By David Barak

Yanni Pihas and his wife Denise, two long-time San Diego area restaurateurs, have succeeded in a sometimes difficult industry for three reasons: good food, dedicated service and the strong support of the community they serve.

The husband and wife team own Yanni’s Bar & Grill, a popular Scripps Ranch restaurant that serves up both Greek and Italian food.

According to Yanni, “The beauty of the Greek and Italian cuisine is the honesty of the food, that it’s very simple and it’s prepared with love and care – and that’s what we’re trying to recreate over here.”

Their first local restaurant, Yanni’s Bistro in Poway, opened in 2002 and remained in that location for 12 years. They took advantage of an opportunity in 2014 to move to a better location at 12015 Scripps Highlands Drive, where their current restaurant is located.

Rather than risking a drop in food and service quality by running two restaurants, they opted to close the Poway location. That move didn’t have a negative impact for their business since most of their customers were already coming from Scripps Ranch. Yanni’s Bar & Grill opened July 1, 2014. 

“We didn’t really lose any customers from the previous location, so we brought most of those. We just have always had the support of the community. We’ve been very community entrenched the entire 20 years,” Denise said.

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Pihas family’s first entry into San Diego dining with a restaurant.

The food is the main attraction, of course. Yanni and Denise are careful to use the best quality ingredients they can find. They receive deliveries of fresh food every day of the week, and Yanni does some of the shopping himself.

“I go to the market almost every day, sometimes twice a day, to several different locations to source ingredients,” he said. “What we serve is what we eat, and we would never serve something we would not eat ourselves.”

A staff dedicated to its work and its customers is another reason for the restaurant’s success. Many of the employees have been with the restaurant for more than a decade.

“We have people from the old location. One of our employees, actually, is still here who was part of the opening team at the other place. So, she’s been here over 20 years now,” Yanni said.

Because many of the customers are regulars eating there once or twice a week, the staff has gotten to know their preferences.

“We have our regular guests and, because we have our long-standing employees, some of them, they put the wine on the table before the guests even sit down,” Denise said. “They know what they want. We pride ourselves in knowing who’s our regular guests and we take care of them – and even if someone’s a new guest, having them have such a good experience that they start telling their friends and neighbors about us, and we feel like that the best form of advertising is word-of-mouth.”

COVID-19 presented the same risks to the business that other restaurants faced, but Yanni, Denise and their employees met the challenge head-on. A lot of what helped the restaurant survive the pandemic was the good will of their guests.

“[The customers] were so generous to our staff and the employees. Every day, like when you just got ready to throw in the towel, someone would either financially do something that was way above and beyond, or we had guests that would bake us things,” Denise said. “Some of them are still doing it for our kitchen. I’m talking CEOs of companies that are baking for our employees. We had people purchasing gift certificates and huge amounts of money and not using it because they just wanted to give us money to have cash flow. And then they started using it after COVID. Just so many unique ways that people were just so generous to us throughout that. And that just helped us to keep going. And that’s been like that the whole time, because we have guests that have been like our PR firm, that they will bring in their best friends, people out of town.”

Ultimately, for Yanni and Denise, running Yanni’s Bar & Grill isn’t just a business venture.

“We don’t have to entertain at home because I feel like we have that social outlet here. All of our guests, we consider them friends, and vice versa,” Denise said.

This etched stone sign was presented to Yanni and Denise Pihas on the fifth anniversary of their first restaurant’s opening. (photo by David Barak)
One of the gifts presented to Yanni and Denise Pihas by one of their customers. (photo by David Barak)