Food Network Star Nears Launch of Fort Lauderdale Restaurant

Acclaimed chef and restaurateur Nikol Zarbalas is launching a new restaurant concept at the Gateway Shopping District in Fort Lauderdale. The Food Network star will open The Food Republic, a brand-new restaurant featuring Chef Zarbalas’ elevated take on a northeast-style diner with an evolving menu and “blue plate” specials.

Zarbalas, who also owns the Hellenic Republic in Coral Springs, has leased 1,500 square feet at 1910 E. Sunrise Blvd. The 50-seat Fort Lauderdale restaurant will showcase the cuisine that received high praise from Guy Fieri, who referred to it as “the best Greek food” he’s ever tasted during a 2023 episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Additionally, in April 2024, Zarbalas participated in an episode of Fieri’s Guy’s Grocery Games show.

Zarbalas, a Coral Springs resident and mother of five, has been running Hellenic Republic since 2019. The restaurant is particularly famous for its signature lamb burger and kataifi fried shrimp served over traxana (Greek grits).

The Fort Lauderdale restaurant secured the lease, which was brokered by Native Realty, a Fort Lauderdale-based commercial real estate firm led by Jaime Sturgis. Drawing in a well-known chef such as Zarbalas highlights the firm’s ongoing commitment to managing the adaptive reuse and curation of Gateway Shopping District.

“Our vision to transform a property that had languished for several decades into a bustling shopping and dining destination is coming to fruition,” Sturgis says. “Gateway Shopping District now boasts a compelling line-up of cool experiential retailers and diverse food-and-beverage operators that draw area residents, visitors and professionals. Chef Nikol’s arrival is a shining endorsement of our successful placemaking campaign for this unique property.”

The Gateway Shopping District, situated in the Victoria Park neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, has a rich history. It was initially established as the Jungle Zoo in 1940 and underwent several transformations over the years, evolving into a supermarket, big-box retail center and boutique neighborhood plaza. By early 2020, the property had significant deferred maintenance issues. However, Native was brought in to revitalize the area through extensive improvements and careful tenant curation. It has since increased the occupancy rate from 50% to over 95%. The company is preparing to reveal several more exciting leases at the property in the upcoming weeks.

The renovation project involved installing new roofs, windows, doors, fixtures, flooring, paint, facades, and more. Native enlisted several artists to create exterior murals with the theme of “urban oasis/concrete jungle” as a tribute to the property’s history as a Jungle Zoo. Additionally, outdoor courtyards were added to encourage al fresco dining for restaurant tenants.

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