It’s been five years since Greeks’ Restaurant and Grill moved to North Main Street in Blacksburg, and Tom “The Greek” Havelos still hasn’t spent a dime on advertising. Havelos, along with his family, prefers to let the food do the talking.
In the beginning, Tom Havelos wanted nothing to do with the family business. He was studying to be a civil engineer when the housing market collapsed. All of a sudden, Havelos found himself in his father’s restaurant in North Carolina. Now, in the midst of a recession, he is thankful that he learned the family trade.
“I appreciate the fact that my father gave me the opportunity to learn this business,” Tom Havelos said. “I have to thank my dad for seeing into the future that I would need this to fall back on…I look at the same thing with my kids.”
His children have already taken steps in that direction. Constantinos Havelos currently co-owns the restaurant and cooks with his father Tom; he considers the rest of the staff to be like family.
“We’ll get on each other’s nerves from time to time, but at the end of the day it’s not a big deal,” Constantinos Havelos said. “We can tell each other what we’re thinking, and we don’t have to keep secrets from each other.”
In some way or at some location, the Greeks’ Restaurant has been in Blacksburg since 1948. Originally the Blue Ribbon Restaurant, Tom's uncle Jim Havelos partnered with Nick Kappas in 1960 and officially changed it to the Greeks’ Restaurant. In 2009, the Havelos family moved the restaurant from Progress Street to its current home on North Main Street.
At first, Constantinos Havelos thought the location was too far from the downtown scene, but the small space has turned out to be a success.
“You see a lot of big restaurants being turned over time and time again, but, knock on wood, we’ve made it so far,” Constantinos Havelos said.
A reason for this success may be the restaurant's source of ingredients. The Haveloses regularly travel to the food markets in Baltimore, Md. to keep their supplies fresh.
“We’re on the road for eight hours just to pick stuff up, because we can’t get it down here,” Constantinos Havelos said.
The Greeks’ Restaurant does its best to cater to every type of customer they come across. For instance, whether they’re preparing food for festivals or standard orders, the Haveloses use halal meats. Because they prepare the ingredients for each meal in house, their meals are as diverse as their clientele.
“If you get something from a restaurant and they microwave it and serve it, it doesn’t taste the same,” Constantinos Havelos said. “Meat tastes much better fresh off the grill…that’s just the way [my father] taught me to do it.”
In an age of factory farms and frozen, prepackaged food, Tom Havelos believes that his method of cooking is what sets their restaurant apart from others.
“If you’re in the restaurant business, you might as well do it working, not standing around telling somebody, ‘Hey, pick up those frozen meatballs and put them in the microwave,’” Tom Havelos said. “There’s a lot of people all over that deal in fast food and frozen stuff, and we don’t need one more.”
A typical week for Constantinos Havelos and the rest of the Greeks’ family consists of 80 hours of work. By 10 o’clock in the morning, the kitchen is loud with the sounds of sizzling pans and Greek music. Customers might not experience the full-time effort that the Haveloses and their employees put in, but Constantine Havelos said he believes that his work is appreciated.
“We put a lot of ourselves into this, and I think people know that,” Constantinos Havelos said.
Tom Havelos said that the restaurant has a way of waking up the senses. His son Peter currently studies at Virginia Commonwealth University’s dental school, and Constantinos Havelos is interested in studying law at George Mason University. Tom Havelos said that the restaurant will be there for them in the future, regardless of their success.
“They have a lot to be thankful for,” Tom Havelos said. “They might not recognize it now, but later on they can fall back on that…and it’s a good thing to fall back on - cooking is always good.”
In a town that loses a majority of its residents during the summer months, the Greeks’ Restaurant and Grill might seem like an underdog. Even without the country’s recession, being a small, family-owned business is a challenge for many restaurant owners.
“The fact that we can exist in a society that’s really taking a beating in the recession is a triumph for me,” Tom Havelos said. “Every time I have a good day here or I do a special and it’s a real sellout, I feel like I have triumphed.”