Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis
In a relatively new, but quickly growing fast-casual category, Mr. Greek is aiming to do as well in the United States as it has in Canada. “There is not a major Greek player in the U.S., and I truly believe Mr. Greek will become the leader,” says president and CEO George Raios.
With 22 restaurants in Southern Ontario, Mr. Greek has enjoyed an enthusiastic following since opening its first full-service restaurant in Toronto’s GreekTown in 1988. “We were an overnight success,” Raios says. “The customers kept complaining that they couldn’t get in on any night of the week. We were turning people away even on Monday nights.” In 1992, Mr. Greek opened a second location and doubled its sales overnight, Raios says.
With a steady take out and delivery business of 25 to 30 percent of total sales, Raios saw a niche for a fast-casual concept and launched Mr. Greek Express in 1995. Eight of the 22 Mr. Greek restaurants in Ontario are express units, with two more planned to open by August.
What makes Mr. Greek so successful, Raios says, is the freshness and the flavors. “This is real, fresh food, cooked right in front of your eyes,” Raios says. “It’s better than the typical home-cooked meal. And our customers know that the Mediterranean diet has been proven for centuries as one of the healthiest of diets. That’s what people are looking for now, health and flavor.”
Beyond the good food, there’s entertainment—so important to Greek life, Raios says. The open-kitchen of the 2,000-square-foot Mr. Greek Express allows customers to see their meals prepared, including the dramatic use of open flame and cheerful shouts of “Opa!” by the staff. “When you’re a guest in a Mr. Greek, you feel you’re in Greece,” Raios says. “Whether it’s a quick lunch or a dinner with wine, our guests enjoy a great plate presentation, a great atmosphere, and great music, all part of the Greek experience.”
Back to the food. The top-sellers are the traditional Greek favorites, including saganaki, also known as flaming cheese (Kefalotiri cheese, lightly pan-fried and flambéed), kalamari, and tzatziki (pressed yogurt mixed with garlic and cucumber) with grilled pita as appetizers. The most popular entrees are the souvlakis, or traditional Greek grilled meat on a skewer. A customer’s choice of chicken, lamb, beef, or pork is served in a pita or with a Greek salad and choice of two sides. Mr. Greek has grown famous for its potato and rice dishes, Raios says, but in the interest of health has added more side choices, including roasted vegetables and green beans.