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Restauranteur Talk with Theo Psalios
Theo Psalios grew up learning from his father, famed Edmonton restaurateur Yianni Psalios and honed his craft during the early years at Koutouki. Now, with over 20 years of experience in Greek cuisine, Theo maintains his philosophy here at Little Village by building relationships with his customers through a spirit of Greek tradition in nurturing others with good food and care.
In 2012 Theo hit the streets with one little food truck. Little Village has now expanded into a brick and mortar takeaway shop and a flourishing catering company.
Restaurant owners oversee the day-to-day operations of a restaurant, managing staff, resolving customer issues and work to make the establishment profitable. Although no degree is required, restaurant owners typically have a wealth of experience in the business.
In managing their establishments, restaurant owners wear a lot of hats. Their overarching goal is to make sure that customers are satisfied with their food and that the restaurant turns a profit. That means overseeing the kitchen staff as they prepare, cook and present the meals, monitoring the wait staff as they serve customers and working with the cleaning staff to make sure everything is up to food and health safety standards.
Owners are also in charge of keeping track of inventory, doing payroll, managing the budget and making a schedule for the workers, though owners may choose to delegate some or all of these tasks to a manager.
If you want to become a restaurant owner, it helps tremendously to get some experience working in a restaurant first. Some owners start out at the bottom of the industry, washing dishes, serving tables or preparing meals. There, they learn the business and work their way up into management positions before running the show themselves.
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Complete Episode Transcript
And well, what are your meals like at home when you’re cooking for the family after a long day.
Are you ever.
Do they run to fast food.
We get a lot of takeout.
Take out from your restaurant.
The Job Talk Podcast shares stories from people who are passionate and love what they do in their careers. Through conversation we explore their careers, past work experiences and the education that got them to where they are now.
We are putting together a career crisis Ultimate Interview series.
We are asking experts to give their best advice and guidance around work anxiety career pressures, career goal setting, and ultimately career transformation.
To learn more about this special interview series and get notified when it’s available, please visit our web page at thejobtalk.com/help Today’s guest is Theo Psalios.
Here’s our Job Talk with a restaurateur.
Okay, Theo, I think my first question for you today is, were you always destined to become a chef and work in the culinary world.
It appeared that way from as long as I can remember when I was very little.
And I’ve always been surrounded by restaurants or immersed in restaurants.
And there was a period, long period of time where I told myself I had this little story in my head that I will never, ever work in a restaurant or own a restaurant.
And lo and behold, here we are.
Now, people that don’t know.
Your dad is a famed restaurateur and chef.
Can you talk a little bit about him.
I mean, his story goes way back to when he was a teenager going to I think he left his he left home when he was about 14 and went to hotel school.
This is back in Cyprus, which is where our family is from.
And he worked on the merchant ships and as a chief steward.
So taking care of hosting the staff, taking care of the staff, the crew, I should say, on the boat.
And I think 1975 is when he came to Canada and started his first restaurant back in Vancouver.
And he’s been in the restaurant business ever since.
How did and I don’t want to get into a huge story with him, but how did he end up in Edmonton.
So he and my he and my mom broke up or divorced when I was two, so they were super young.
And so we left Vancouver in the late seventies and moved to Edmonton and I think about 1980, and that’s where he started his first restaurant.
So since he’s been in Edmonton since 1980 and said many restaurants since then.
And after high school, did you go into culinary school or did all of your training come from working with your dad and through restaurants.
All my training is through restaurants and through my dad, through.
So a lot of things I’ve learned from him, actually.
It’s also my mom still lives in Vancouver.
Her ex-husband also had restaurants.
So in my teen years I was working there as well and it was Italian restaurant with a different cuisine.
Yeah. So I’ve been totally I’ve been surrounded by it for quite a few years now.
So yeah, I guess you could say self-taught and and learning from being in the restaurants.
And there was times where I broke away and worked at other restaurants.
I moved to Toronto in my mid-twenties and worked at different restaurants there just to get to to learn different cuisines, different work environments.
And so, yeah, that’s that’s where my, my culinary experience comes from.
Do you speak Greek as well.
And you do? I don’t.
Oh, you don’t.
I was going to say because my dad emigrated from Denmark in 1962, and I think he looks at me with incredible disappointment that I don’t speak Danish. So.
So you’re working in the culinary world and so you come back to Edmonton.
What year did you come back to Edmonton.
Well, first of I mean, I grew up in Vancouver with my mom and I would come up there and visit every summer.
The first time I worked in the restaurant, I was probably ten.
I was dishwashing for my dad at one of the restaurants, actually, the restaurant that still exists on Whyte Ave.
And then I actually moved here in 2001 for a little while.
Moved back to Vancouver.
Then I came back.
Worked for a few in 2003 And then my dad wanted to open up a restaurant, a second restaurant for us together, and I felt like I wasn’t ready to sort of take to steer that ship because I was 24.
I just I didn’t feel confident with what I knew.
And I sold everything I had.
I moved to Toronto kind of on a whim and thinking that, you know, I’ll just find a job when I get there, a cooking job and gain some more experience.
It was actually quite difficult to find just a line cook job.
It took me a whole week and I ended up working for free for a brand new restaurant downtown Toronto for a week cause they weren’t quite open yet.
And I said, I’ll just work.
You don’t have to pay me.
I’ll work for free until you’re open and that’s where I got my first job in Toronto.
And then I turned 25 and I worked there for about six, seven months.
And then my dad said, Hey, I found this other location in Edmonton.
What do you think.
And so after about seven months working for this other restaurant, this high end Italian restaurant, downtown Toronto, I felt I was ready.
So that’s when I decided to, okay, let’s do this.
And that’s when I started my first restaurant in Edmonton, and that was 2004.
That’s jumping into the fire.
Yeah, I remember a reality television series that followed the restaurant’s that you guys owned in Edmonton.
Yeah. How did that come to be.
How many seasons were there of the show.
Could you talk a little bit about that experience.
Yeah. Backing up a couple of years.
So we had a location, a restaurant location.
This is before Toronto.
Yeah, yeah. Where the whole family was working in this small restaurant.
Do you want to know the location or is that for lease.
So we had that Greek restaurant on 124th Street called Koutouki.
Yeah, it’s very small, but a thousand square feet and the whole family like.
So my dad, my step mom, my sister, myself, were all working there in the smaller restaurant, was very busy and it was super chaotic, lots of fights, lots of action.
And so this TV crew or a production company out of Edmonton they were regular customers of ours at the at the restaurant.
And they had the idea of documenting a family run restaurant.
And I think they were looking at a couple of family run restaurants in the city, and they ultimately chose us to follow us around.
And so when they started filming, we were just at that one location.
And then it was kind of at the same period of time that they started filming as when we were getting ready to open up other locations.
So that’s when I ended.
I was in the West End and then we started spreading out and then they were following us at the at the various locations.
So with the reality, I’ve never been on a reality series.
I’ve been in front of cameras here and there.
Do they ask you to make things.
Do they ask you to make drama happen.
Or did that just come naturally.
Because I think I remember a few episodes where there was some conflict between you and your your dad.
Does that sound.
Well, there’s romance always.
And we do.
But there is no question we bought heads all the time.
Yeah. Similar personalities.
He gets very easily frustrated when you don’t do things how he wants you to do them, even though he hasn’t explain to you how he wants you just magically expects you do things a certain way.
And then when you don’t, he gets really upset anyhow, what they would do with the reality show is they would kind of check in on everybody and see what was sort of what was happening, if there was any issues.
Any topics that are going on within the family.
And if so, they’d get you together and try and bring that topic up or that hits you and see what happens.
Or they would just interview people independently in regards to that issue.
And then you get these two separate sides.
Yeah, but let the drama ensue So it wasn’t necessarily manufactured.
It was. Did you get to a point where you weren’t even knowing the cameras were there shooting you.
You certainly get used to it after a while.
At first, you’re incredibly conscious that they’re right there behind you when you’re trying to work, but after a while you do get used to it.
And then, I mean, there’s certain things where, I mean, in TV that they need to have sort of a beginning, middle and end with like a storyline, right.
Like it’s we can’t just take just random footage and slap it together.
So there is definitely certain, certain parts or certain episodes that you go back and watch it where they had to sort of drum up a little story.
So it’s not like we’re manufacturing facts, but it’s you know, I can give you an example.
And there was an episode when we went to Las Vegas for my brother in law, stag.
Yeah, they had to.
Well, that’s kind of back to what I said.
They couldn’t just take random, random footage of us just partying in Vegas where they come up with a storyline.
So, like, okay, well, how about you guys decide to have a contest while you’re here.
And that’s what we did.
And so there was all these sort of events during our stay there that we had to compete in and take a prize at the end.
How many seasons? How many seasons did it run for.
I was two seasons.
It was like 13 episodes altogether.
And do you think it helped your business.
Oh, for sure. In fact, you know, when I.
Some of the regrets I have is not, if taken for granted, how good that was for business and and not taking more advantage of that or as a business owner.
So a couple, couple things would have changed with that.
Let’s say this media gig that I have right now doesn’t work out.
And I’ve often thought about teaming up with my incredibly talented sister in law and creating a starting up a food truck.
And the idea would be to sell Fancy Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
Now. I don’t know if it’s going to work or not, What what are we up against if we’re going into the food truck business.
How much like how much do you have to invest into it.
What are some of the legalities insurance items.
What are you looking at when you’re creating a food truck.
Well, I would say the Coles notes on it is it’s not as it’s not as great as you think it might be like it takes a lot of work, like a lot of physical hours to actually make a buck.
It’s not as great as it once.
Well, I get the beginning days when the when the scene was new in the city, it was more novel.
So, you know, it was busier.
There was, you know, the idea and there weren’t very many food trucks.
So at the beginning, it was it was a lot better also with the city that is not nearly as wonderful as it once was at the beginning.
And it’s it’s really painful now to get to go through all the permits.
Just to communicate with them and to go through all those avenues that you need to for the food truck, all the licensing and permits.
It’s, it’s, that’s not a happy journey.
What kind of investment.
Like financial investment are you looking at for like a basic food truck.
I would say anywhere between 50 to 100 to 150, if you want to get something super deluxe.
Okay. I’m not going to do this.
It sounds like way too much work and I’m quite lazy.
And it’s seasonal too.
So you only have a few months to make money and then you have to figure something out.
Yeah. Are there quite a are there quite a few food trucks in a city of Edmonton and areas about a million, a little bit over a million people. Are there quite a few food trucks.
It seems that way now. And, you know, I’m out of the scene now.
You know, like if I’m not sure if we touched on the fact that we sold our food truck, we don’t have one yet.
But so I see a lot that I don’t recognize.
And I’ve seen in the last ten years a lot of one and done yeah I see them one year and then they disappear.
It’s like any business that leads us into.
Could you talk to us about what you’re doing right now.
So we started as a food food truck in 2012, and then that kind of parlayed into a brick and mortar takeout shop that we have now.
When we had the food truck, we were paying rent basically in a commissary kitchen that we were only using six, eight months out of the year.
So I’m thinking, well, why not lease a space that will generate revenue all year round that you can also use as commissary for the food truck while that that space now that we’re doing takeout out of is actually quite busy where the food truck, we just weren’t taking it out as much as we once were because we’re focusing more on the brick and mortar.
And so it’s a you take out food and you’re also doing catering as well.
Yeah. In lots of catering. Yeah. Yeah.
So we’re post-pandemic here a year.
So the catering disappeared for a couple of years and now it’s, you know, bounce back kind of double sort of making up for lost time, which is great. Yeah.
So when the pandemic hit, did were you a dine in service at that time.
Did you have a restaurant that was dine in? Nope.
Nope. We were we were takeout from the very beginning and so we kind of designed for it.
For it. That was going to be it.
What were your sales like throughout the pandemic like.
Did you see not having an actual in dining experience you were set up for.
What kind of the world went to for for food takeout.
We were yeah. We our sales doubled yeah.
Pre to post or pre the during pandemic rather and we had to do some evolving just to to to evolve with the growth of the business so suddenly.
So you know with online ordering just our set up our menu for the menu was doing some evolving like same items but serving them in in a different way.
And we were just, yeah, we were set up for it.
You know, I felt guilty at times. People were like, how’s business.
You know, thing were restaurants were hurting.
And I was like, I keep pretty good.
Yeah I know a lot of people are were suffering at the time but yeah I know it was a big good bump for us.
Those was good.
I always love talking to people where you have a passion as being a chef, but you’re also a business owner and the day to day operations kind of takes you away from what you’re passionate about.
Unless are you passionate about the business operations side of things, or is it just kind of the reality you’re in.
You know what I am like, it’s when it’s your little your little business project that you’ve been working on for so many years.
I become passionate about it where I constantly want to nurture it and constantly want to see it grow and constantly thinking about what I can do to move the needle.
And it’s it it’s not just the food.
A lot of it comes down to, like, nurturing the customers.
I really want to please the customers.
That’s what I really get passionate about.
And that’s through food and the service and building the relationships with the customers.
That’s that’s really what I’m passionate about.
The food’s just sort of a vehicle.
Can you talk a little bit about your day to day and average day for it.
Yeah, it starts early in the morning.
You know, it’s still such a small business that I’m off.
It’s like a sole proprietorship, which, you know, I can lead into later that we’re trying to grow out of where I still need to be hands on, because we’re not quite big enough that I can totally step away and hire, you know, sort of a kitchen manager or part of that is two is the staffing issue in the labor market right now is not awesome.
But my day, my day to day starts with me going in, you know, at 7 a.m.
and I start prepping for the day.
It’s kind of our operation is similar to a bakery in the way that, you know, we prep a lot of things ahead of time and then get them ready to serve.
And and when we run out, we run out some things we can replenish, but it’s a lot of prep beforehand and then we sell throughout the day.
Do you have any supply chain issues.
I know that’s a big thing for a lot of industry.
Oh, yeah, we sure have. Yeah.
There’s many, many items have disappeared for for three months at a time.
You know, like me, main item lab is really popular on our menu.
I mean, staple and it was disappeared, it was unavailable for I think three or four months last summer.
And are you getting any ingredients straight from Greece.
We don’t order ourselves.
We don’t get them straight from Greece, but they’re great imported products.
Olive oil, the like, herbs, the spices.
There’s a lot of lots of things. Yeah.
You get some grace. Yeah.
And then you’re obviously probably buying off of local as well.
The there’s certain things that have to go through my head.
Like there’s some cheeses that we get locally, some of our proteins we get locally and you just, you, you get you.
It’s like a mixed bag of where you can get it at best quality products.
And it’s got I mean, it has to be affordable as well.
Otherwise the business part doesn’t make sense.
What do you love most about what you’re doing.
If if you know, if that question is given to you, what gets you up in the morning.
Well, I think that goes back to what I was saying before.
What I’m passionate about is, is I like the relationship.
I love dealing with the customers, the relationships that we build with the customers.
We have lots of regular clients, the clientele that come in and, you know, we joke and and, you know, we ask each other about our day or week and and I just like taking care of them.
That’s it’s kind of it’s like you’re it’s it’s so much the restaurant where you’re hosting people, you know, hosting people on a daily basis except, you know, they’re not dining in.
But, you know, I’m there to give them the best food that we can.
And I want them to go home and enjoy the meal that we prepared.
And I really mean that sincerely.
It’s you know, we really try to make every every dish as best and tasty and healthy as possible.
And well, what are your meals like at home when you’re cooking for the family after a long day.
Are you ever.
Do they run too fast food.
We get a lot of takeout.
Take out from your restaurant.
Yeah, well, it’s funny, actually.
My family gives me a hard time because they don’t bring it home enough, because I get.
I mean, you’re cooking in your you’re seeing and you’re dealing with the same food every single day that it’s I just I don’t think of bringing home to eat for myself personally, but then my family gives me a hard time.
Is is your dad still around.
Is he still. Yes.
And is and is he out of it completely retired or.
Oh, no, no.
Yeah, he was.
If anybody that knows him will know that he actually moved down to Palm Springs for the last five or six years.
Yeah, but he has just recently moved back to Edmonton where he is set to open up his, I don’t know, his 20th restaurant in a matter of weeks.
Wow. Are you going to be involved with that at all.
I have another question with that.
But what would.
I say that would love.
I say, yeah, no, no, it’s better that way.
And everybody’s happy.
No, I think I’m going to have to go and try to find this.
The series that you were on to see how if there was a conclusion to it.
But that’s the whole box of DVDs.
Oh, does. He.
Then he hands off to friends of mine.
I love it.
Supply chain issues aside, what are some of the biggest challenges that you’re experiencing day to day.
The day to day.
Oh, I mean, I it’s probably on more of a macro level.
It’s it’s staff staffing issues as far as there’s not many, you know, people out there that are taking up the jobs.
If you you can just see on social media in the service sector or anybody that’s that’s advertising rooms, restaurant is trying to find staff and it’s just that’s showing that there’s just a real shortage for the service industry.
And I’ve been seeing, you know, in the news headlines as well.
So it’s I think it’s across the country. Yeah.
So that plays a part where you just constantly trying to fill holes in the schedule, especially when you start getting busier and busier and it’s it’s hard on the people that are working and yourself and everybody’s getting a little tired.
So that’s that’s one thing.
The food costs has been relentless.
Relentless in the last two years.
Yeah. Constantly increasing.
And you just you have to I hate raising my prices and you stop, but you have to find that, that, that really thin line of where you’re not going to be scaring your customers away.
But you still need to, you know, make a living and keep the business open.
So that’s been a real big struggle and it’s with the food and the paper products, especially for us.
So it’s all takeout.
And those paper products have been they’ve gone up like 30% in the last year.
And it’s a major area indeed.
Are you optimistic that things are going to improve or is it just going to keep going the way it is.
I mean, it has to level off eventually like it has to plateau.
Yeah, it feels like it kind of has in the last few months and seen any I hopefully those big jumps at the beginning of the year of this year have the are the the last we’ll see for a while I hope.
So I don’t know, I’m always optimistic, you know, for our business, the good thing about it is it’s so small, it’s nimble, it’s flexible.
We’ve just been adapting for the last five years and we keep coming out ahead, knock on wood and hopefully that keeps happening.
And yeah, we’re just grinding away trying to figure out how to send our kids college. Yeah, I’m.
I’m building a library of interviews with occupations from across the board.
They like huge variety.
What I like about, you know, the culinary world, you’re not really looking at having to go to school for ten years.
Like if you’re in the medical field and you were trying to specialize, but do you have any advice you could offer somebody who loves to cook.
You know, maybe they they don’t do it.
They don’t do it as their day job.
But they’ve always been curious about getting into the culinary world.
Do you have any advice for somebody looking to to enter that now.
Well, if you’re a young person, what I would do so things that when I look back at and things I wish it would have been fun to do it this way.
You know, I would have gone to take my degree, my culinary degree, and then I would have traveled with it and try to find jobs.
They call them a stage, which is you kind of work for free, but it really, really high end restaurants around the world and you find places to do that.
And I think that would be just an amazing, amazing experience.
And you may find one restaurant in one city that really speaks to you and you may stay there and have a wonderful experience.
I think that’s would have been something to be cool to have done if I was when I was younger.
So that’s the kind of thing like if you’re, you know, single, you’re still trying to figure out what you want to do with your career.
That’s the way to do it.
If you already have an established career and you’re thinking about moving into the culinary arts, I would say no.
Yeah, I was going to say yeah.
And that’s that’s a fair statement and they should think about that.
I would keep, you know, try to find a career that’s not making you miserable.
And and then I would take some culinary class.
There’s so many classes that you can do sort of part time and you can learn a lot from them.
And and just, you know, you have to eat every day.
So you’re going to be able to have fun with your hobby often, right.
That’s that’s what I would do if you’re if you’re already established with the job for sure.
Do you have kids, do you have. Three.
Are any of them showing interest in going into into the family business.
One of them says that, that she’d really like to do what she’d like to be a vet and and the baker, she wants to do both.
So yeah, that’s kind of cool. And I guess, you know, it’s hard to make a, a really good living in the culinary arts.
I mean, I guess you’re going to become a restaurateur right.
And you’ve become a successful restaurateur.
It is. It’s so risky, though, you know.
So I guess in this, for the sake of protecting my kids, I’m like, no, no, no, no. Go do something.
Do something safe.
Make a nice living. Yeah.
And then everybody’s happy.
Yes, that’s right.
Yeah. Those are the first two.
What what are your plans for the future here or you’re going to continue doing the same same thing.
Or do you have some big, big ideas that you’re going to try to do.
Well, I mean, you’ve touched upon it before, but, you know, we’ve been getting busier and busier year over year.
And it would be we’re trying to work on how to grow the business, what that next step might look like.
I don’t know, maybe a second location.
If want to do it, make sure we’re doing it properly and soundly.
So it’s just it’s a constant, constant work in progress or a work in progress sort of, you know, getting all your systems nailed down so that when you do open up a second location or you expand into something larger, that you’re well planned for it.
So that’s what we’re trying to do, or just trying to get bigger and bigger, but so conservatively.
Well, Theo, I wish you all of the luck in the world moving forward.
And I just want to thank you for giving us some time today.
Hey, my pleasure. Happy to be here.
Thank you for tuning in to The Job Talk Podcast.
For more information, please visit us at thejobtalk.com Our podcast music was created by our friend Mike Malone in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.