An interview of Dimitris

Dimitris Kourkoulos is a mild mannered man with a warm smileand a glint in his eye. He grew up in ‘Brouklis’, his father’s taverna in Arillas and has been running it for the past 17 years. He is a self-taught man who speaks five European languages fluently, has a lovely wife Litsa and a gorgeous five month old baby son.
Like many other tavernas in the village, his is a family-run business and, with several rooms above the restaurant, visitorskeep the family busy for much of the summer.
Dimitris's sisterRoula works twelve hours a day cooking traditional delights such as Bianco, Pastitsio, Briam and Stifado, assisted by cousin Stamatella. Dimitris's brother-in-law Nikos helps out too, and German language teacher Antje washes up.
I enjoy a coffee at the taverna whilst talking to Dimitris about the future of tourism in Corfu. Dimitris launched in 1999. This website, which he built and maintains, is the first electronic port of call for many a visitor to the north of the island and is packed with local information. In addition, it has a delightful webcam which is perched on a seafront hotel and which refreshes its view of the promenade and the sea beyond every twenty seconds.
Holidaymakers can sit at home and indulge in a fantasy trip to the beach. There is a chat room, fantastic aerial views of Arillas and the surrounding villages, and on-line polls which keep a finger on the pulse of holidaymakers' views and ideas. One of the poll questions asks if visitors believe all-inclusive resorts are good for the island. ‘Don’t fix the roads,’ Dimitris once told a vote-chasing aspiring Prefect. If his request had been granted it would have made life hard for the all-inclusive resort at Saint Spiridon, a whopping 800-bed complex which provides food, drink and everything else under one safe umbrella. Its existence has meant the demise of some local businesses, as holidaymakers venture no further than the hotel grounds.
Dimitris points out that Arillas has a capacity to provide 800 visitor beds too. The population of 460 people includes some 46 families, most of whom make their living from tourism. For the village, this is sustainable; there is work for everyone and in the winter enough labour and skills to restore, repair or rebuild existing facilities.
But what about the tour companies - what is their impact? I am aware that they hold providers' prices down, I say, and I believe they have a detrimental effect on the economy. But Dimitris has a positive word to say for the big boys. They encourage firsttime visitors, he says, those who without the safety, guidance and guarantees that the tour operators give would not otherwise venture to Greece. Once here, these previously anxious visitors then explore and, when they have familiarised themselves, find other places to stay; places like the rooms over Brouklis Taverna.
Once they feel comfortable, they become confident to make their own arrangements, returning as independent travellers. Dimitris was once approached by a tour company who wanted to do a deal; it would have meant building more rooms – an increase in business, yes, but he prefers to stay small, and the deal would have meant laying concrete over his father’s much-loved smallholding which provides vegetables, eggs, chickens and fruit for the seasonal menu. He says it’s taken time to build up a loyal client base, but people come back year after year. He points to four of the taverna's tables. ‘These are booked by the same people, for the next two weeks.’
I tell Dimitris I like his restaurant because it is traditionally Greek, the delicious food honest and simple. He says he would not describe his restaurant as ‘Greek’ anymore than an Englishman in England would describe his restaurant as ‘English’. He doesn’t need to tell his customers that his food is traditional, for he is supplying food cooked with local ingredients in the way it has been prepared for many years. There are no plastic laminated menus or boards displaying fare in four languages. There is no need because Dimitris's customers are discerning; they know what they want and the restaurant is generally full because they get it. Dimitris once suggested to a holidaymaker who requested ‘Bisto’ gravy that perhaps his restaurant was not for them, and they should get what they wanted elsewhere.
Dimitris seems to be defending local culture without appearing to try. But actually he has put in a lot of effort into it.
He was able to build on the advice of a Swiss ‘new-ager’ whom he met when he was only fourteen.
The hippy turned out to be a bit of a guru who appeared to see into the future. He foresaw that twenty years hence Corfu would become a home for older people - older people with some money who would embrace the local culture. He also predicted the boom in vegetarian food. In fact, the  redictions were not hocus-pocus but based on sound economic and demographic knowledge.
This was at a time when many providers in Corfu were preparing for a ‘hip’ younger generation who were expected to demand cocktails and fast food.
Dimitris, however, stuck to his guns and now it turns out the Swiss guy was right; people have stopped poking fun at his grandmother's Pumpkin Pie and now tuck into it themselves. So, where do you think tourism going? I ask Dimitris. ‘If we want to see into the future we must look at the past,’ he says, and goes on to explain that maybe there are clues there. In the seventies Corfu had the back-packer: young folk from all over the world arriving by ferry.
Of course, there was no internet in those days, and they trusted to luck in their search for places to sleep and eat by sizing them up for themselves. The independent traveller does much the same thing now - but all their searching is done beforehand on the web in the comfort of their own home; holidays have not changed that much, but what has changed is the way we go about planning them.
Then the eighties and nineties saw a rush of mass tourism, with package tourism dominating the market. In those days you couldn’t do your own thing so easily, for the tour companies wouldn’t have you on board their planes unless you gave an address for where you were staying; they had it all sewn up in a vertical monopoly. Now, with ‘flight only’ services available as well as easyJet, that necessity has thankfully gone, and once more visitors are allowed a choice.
Dimitris says the downturn came in the aftermath of 7/11, when the airlines were forced to become more security conscious, so prices inevitably went up. But all is not lost.
Tourism is Greece’s biggest Industry. Dimitris says EOT (The Greek Tourist Board) will continue to promote package tours, while in parallel others will do their own thing. Corfu is safe. And compared to other tourist hot spots like the Spanish Costas and the Canaries you are much less likely to be robbed or mugged here - in fact less than anywhere else in Europe. Greece is the safest European country - and Corfu is the safest part of Greece.
Dimitris is something of a local hero, and he cares passionately for Arillas and its future. He says many people are surprised that he is happy to post advertisements for other tavernas and accommodation providers on his website, but he doesn’t see it as competition; all the businesses are different and each has its own character. He is savvy enough to know that people are gluttons for information, and the more you can give them the better they will like it.
The webcam provides a window into the soul of Arillas; you can stand on the pier and wave to jealous friends back home. For us, though, it took on a much more practical role one day when my husband Pete and I took our kayaks out to the islands just off the beach.
Once there we realised we might have left the car boot open, and it had started to rain. Worried, we phoned our daughter Natasha in England and asked her to check the webcam and see if indeed it was open. We enjoyed the involvement we could give our daughter in our lives, and as a result she visits Arillas electronically every day now. With its accessible approach, keeps everyone in touch, but most of all it provides choice, allowing its visitors to pick-and-mix a holiday experience that absolutely suits their tastes and needs.
My first visit to Corfu was in 1973 - the year Dimitris was born. I was one of those backpackers, and it’s amazing that my behaviour thereafter was predicted - I am one of those who returned in middle age to live here. I think I’m what’s described as a ‘Residential Tourist’. And I also fit the guru's prediction on choice of food, for I have to say that I really do adore Dimitris's Pumpkin Pie.
For a table at Brouklis Taverna call Dimitris
on 26630 51418     26630 51418   .
Or book on-line at
Kali Oreksi!