Patrons at Ellie’s Kitchen & Catering are more than customers. When one enters the Friendswood eatery, which is decorated with murals depicting owner Ellie Ashley’s childhood home of Cyprus, he or she is more like a houseguest.

“I’ve always enjoyed people eating [my cooking] and saying, ‘Oh, that’s good,’” Ashley said. “There’s always something satisfying about people eating at your home. Before I opened the restaurant I always invited people to the house.”

That mindset helped create the welcoming atmosphere at her Friendswood Mediterranean restaurant.

“[Ashley is] one of those rare people that genuinely cares about people and feels deeply for the community [and] for the people she loves,” said Rob Gates, Ashley’s son and chef at Ellie’s. “If you look at her, she’s almost like everybody’s mom in the way that she approaches people.”

Ashley grew up in Cyprus, where her father, Christof Tambourides, was chef for the island’s British commissioner. She said she got her love of cooking from him and began cooking in her early teen years for her three younger siblings while their parents were at work. Tambourides also taught Ashley about some key ingredients for any meal.

“We really care, and we want people to know that,” Gates said. “If you don’t, people are going to taste that. My grandfather said that the two greatest ingredients in cooking are patience and love. Nothing tastes as good as it ever will without those two ingredients.”

After marrying, Ashley moved to the U.S. in 1960. She worked in engineering for more than 20 years before pursuing her own restaurant in 2006.

“After my son moved down here I decided that it was a good time for him and I to work together,” Ashley said. “When I retired from Dupont, I just took some of my money and bought my kitchen stuff.”

Two to three years after opening, Ashley said she found herself unable to accommodate all of her customer base. She bought the neighboring space as part of the “Carson Expansion”—named for a young customer who grew upset when the restaurant was full one day.

“He cried because he brought his little sister for me to meet, and there was no place for him to sit,” Ashley said. “So when I went home I told my husband, ‘I’m going to expand.’”

The menu includes traditional Mediterranean food along with some American dishes—such as chicken and dumplings and beef stroganoff—that were added based on Ashley’s experiences of living in New Orleans, Maryland and California. All of her food includes the passion and care that defines the restaurant, she said.

“You just have to really love to cook,” Ashley said. “[One must] do it well and use the right ingredients and try not to cut corners just because you have a restaurant. That’s my mentality."