Thirty Years of Good Greek Food – Done Quickly!
Odds are, if you have been to a food court in Canada, you have come across Jimmy the Greek. The restaurant chain is celebrating over 30 years of being a favourite among Canadians but unbeknownst to many, there really is a Jimmy and he’s from Greece and he’s cooking real Greek food.
Dimitrios “Jimmy” Antonopoulos was running his first restaurant in Canada called Epikourion at the end of the 1970s. Located in the First Canadian Tower in Toronto, he served primarily business people on their lunch breaks. Soon, Antonopoulos realized he was losing customers who had strict time limits for lunch. “I wanted to offer an alternative to those customers who would walk away if I couldn’t guarantee they could be seated and served right away at Epikourion,” he recalls.
In 1985, his chance came to offer that alternative in the form of a quick service restaurant called Jimmy The Greek. The success of his previous establishment was proof that Torontonians had an appetite for Greek cuisine – especially if cooked quickly.
Located in the same large business tower, Jimmy The Greek offered the opposite of the full service, seated dining room experience that made Epikourion successful. Now with a counter in a bustling food court, grab-and-go pitas stuffed with chicken or pork souvlaki, gyros and falafels as well as diverse dinner plates that were served with Greek salad, rice and potatoes, all at an affordable price, took hold.
“I was able to take care of those customers who had very limited time to eat, or wanted to take their food back to their office,” said Antonopoulos who runs the business with his two daughters, Toula and Tina. “We are able to make decisions quickly with no extensive bureaucracy to delay implementation,” he says about working with his kin, and with over 50 locations across Canada, the family business is strong.
When the majority of dishes are created exactly like Mama Antonopoulos used to make, it’s hard for the offerings to disappoint. Born and raised in Greece, Antonopoulos grew up eating only fresh local food like feta cheese, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, potatoes, oregano, olive oil and fresh tzatziki. Along with locally raised and butchered chicken and pork.
“Our oven roasted potatoes are prepared the same way my mother prepared them when I was a young boy growing up in my village,” said Antonopoulo, who left Nafplio, Greece for Canada in 1963.
The roast lamb and moussaka – a Greek dish made of layers of eggplant, zucchini, potatoes and topped with stewed ground beef and béchamel sauce- were similarly adapted from Antonopulo’s mother’s recipes.
“My inspiration is my DNA,” says Antonopoulos, “the Kalamata olives we use are from Greece. The olive oil comes from Greece.”
The tzatziki dip, which compliments any Greek dish, is made fresh from cow’s and goat’s milk at an Ontario farm. It has dill and cucumber, which is the traditional Greek way of preparing the dip. “Our souvlaki dry rub marinade is similar to what you would find in any restaurant in Greece,” Antonopoulos affirms.
Jimmy the Greek has not deviated from their core beliefs since opening 32 years ago. For example, franchisees do not receive frozen pre-made and/or pre-seasoned chicken skewers, as other restaurants do. Instead, chicken is delivered to stores fresh, and is cut and marinated at each store.
“We focus on food that is fresh, healthy and delicious,” said Antonopoulos. “I am 78 years old and this is one of the reasons I get up in the morning and continue to go to my store in the First Canadian Place at least two times a week,” he said.
Looking ahead to the future, the Antonopoulos family has no plans of deviating from Jimmy the Greek’s current menu or their approach to business, but more vegetarian options could be coming soon so that all Canadians can feast at Jimmy the Greek.
Photos courtesy of Jimmy The Greek.