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Avli ready to get some fresh air

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Most Baysiders probably will not know the meaning of the name "Avli," but the Greek restaurant at 38-31 Bell Blvd. is currently in the process of living up to its definition: "backyard garden."

Give it another eight months or so, said John Koukounas, 27, who owns the restaurant with his father and brother, and the small backyard will be a dining space at last.

The restaurant opened in May 2007. The family definitely stepped out of its element to give the restaurant a go. John Koukounas was a computer programming student, his brother a nightclub promoter. Their father, Tasos, had the closest thing to a restaurant pedigree: 20 years of experience cleaning commercial ovens.

"We all decided to take a risk," John said. "So far it's working out well."

Tasos, an avid cook, brought his family's recipes to Avli, which boasts standards like chicken souvlaki and falafel as well as more esoteric fare like saganaki — pan-fried, flaming Kefalograviera cheese.

"It's pretty distinct from other places," John said.

Avli was almost not a Bayside restaurant. John said they were about to reach an agreement with a property owner in his hometown of New Hyde Park, L.I., when the owner pulled out of the deal.

"We snatched this up right away," he said of the Bell Boulevard storefront, calling it a "great location."

The location may have been excellent, but the Koukounas family struggled initially after having broken what John called the No. 1 rule of business: Do not work with relatives.

"It took about eight months before we stopped jumping down each other's throats," he said. "We had too many chiefs, not enough Indians."

Now, however, things have settled down and Avli has built up a regular clientele, John said, noting he is now working on rolling out special dishes on weekends, like lamb shish kebab and stuffed zucchini.

The best part for the family has been seeing the restaurant flourish.

"Six months in, we lost two cooks," John said. "We almost shut the place down. But now it's much less stressful."

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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