Updated: Tuesday, 04 February 2014 11:07 | By Agence France-Presse

In Greece, recovery starts with fast food and coffee

Graphics artist and part-time barmaid, Mariza Papasmiria struggled for years juggling her two jobs, working seven days a week for 1,600 euros ($2,200) a month.


In Greece, recovery starts with fast food and coffee

Customers sit at Katerina's coffee bar in Athens on January 29, 2014 - by Louisa Gouliamaki

Then she decided to open a snack bar in Athens, one of thousands of Greeks making the jump onto the fast food bandwagon in the midst of the economic crisis gripping the country.

With the economy having contracted by a quarter since the country fell into recession in 2008 and incomes down by nearly a third, it may not seem like the most auspicious times to open a snack bar.

But "crisis or no, Greeks always have a few euros to spend, they don't stay at home, it's a cultural thing," Papasmiria told AFP.

Perhaps because the jobs market is so bad -- more than one in four Greek workers are out of a job as the economy struggles under tax hikes and spending cuts implemented to secure EU-IMF loans -- growing numbers are looking to venture out on their own.

"I wanted to have a stable profession and not have to depend on anyone," said the 36-year-old inside the small establishment she hopes to open in February on a quiet Athens side-street.

With the country showing signs of returning to growth after six years of recession, it's the food and drink business leading the charge.

Out of some 42,000 new business startups in Greece in 2012, close to a quarter -- 10,000 -- were coffee shops, snack bars and restaurants, according to a recent study by business think tank Endeavour.

Food retail is now Greece's top sector in terms of new business creation. Five years ago, it only ranked fifth overall behind construction, clothes retail, real estate and consulting. 

The Athens chamber of professionals (EEA) has even coined a term for the trend -- a 'business of necessity', one that enables unemployed Greeks to eke out a small income.

Over 1,800 bars and restaurants opened in Athens in 2013, up from 1,700 in 2012. 

In the popular district of Halandri alone, forty establishments opened last year and another twenty licence requests are awaiting approval.

The shutdown of thousands of businesses across the country since the crisis began four years ago, and the accompanying fall in property prices, has helped lower the cost of starting up.

On the Internet, second-hand equipment for bars can be found for knock-down prices, said EEA chairman Yiannis Hatzitheodossiou.

"It's quite simple. When a shop closes, we are 90 percent sure that it will be succeeded by a bar or cafe," said Hasdai Capon, deputy mayor for development in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Nevertheless, it can take around a year for a new establishment to find its niche and build a steady clientele.

"Every day, you wonder if you made the right choice," said Katerina, a 26-year pharmaceutical sector veteran who opened a bar in Athens after being fired in 2011.

"You think of going abroad or settling on one of the islands."

"But given the situation today, I have no desire to return to a regular job," said the 45-year-old.

Although they provide jobs, coffee shops and snack bars will not lead to a lasting recovery for Greece, some caution.

"We're still far from achieving the value-added growth model that the country needs," noted Endeavour's managing director Haris Makryniotis.

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