by Joseph H. RADDER
You may have noticed a big change in Greek restaurants in recent years. Theyre bigger, brighter, and beautifully appointed. Their full color menus rival the most successful national chains. And their chefs offer a wide variety of cuisine, not only Greek, but other ethnic specialties, and lots of American dishes as well.
Everything is first class. We suggest this is the result of a Baby Boomer revolution. Indeed the Boomers have taken over the Greek restaurant business.
Typical is the Bechakas family, George and Nick Bechakas and Kelly Bechakas Scouras. It was our pleasure to meet with all three of them recently after a great dinner in their relatively new Genesee street restaurant near the airport.
One thing stands out more than any other when one meets the Bechakas family. They value family values very highly. Unlike many families who are in business together, theres a lot of togetherness. We dont always agree but we know its important to stick together, George said. Some-times you have to give in. We work on a system of checks and balances. If Nick and I cant agree on something, Kelly is usually the moderator. One thing we do agree on always is the importance of commitment. Being successful in this business calls for total sacrifice, working as a family. But we couldnt do it without our spouses support and understanding.
George married Niki Moumoulidis in 1991, Kelly married Paul Scouras in 1992, and Nick married Gina Diakos in 1995.
Kelly, George, and Nick all grew up in the restaurant business. Nick remembers when he was little, his parents ran a restaurant on Tonawanda street called Toms Texas Hots. Both my mother and father worked in the restaurant and theyd take me to work with them every day before I was in school. My playpen was an egg crate, and I had to stay in it during the busy times. I couldnt move until lunch was over.
Georges most vivid memory is of a time when he was about 12 years old. I had just gone to sleep one night when my father woke me up about midnight and told me to get dressed. The night dishwasher had failed to show up and I had to go down to the restaurant and wash dishes all night long. Finally he came back to get me about 7a.m.when the day dishwasher came on duty.
We all worked bussing tables when we were kids, Kelly remembered. I loved to go to the restaurant with my father to do odd jobs. Hed pay me a quarter.
Dad Terry Bechakas (not to be confused with his cousin, Terry Bechakas who runs the Hourglass Restaurant) is still alive and well. He opened Luckys Texas Hots in the early 1960s at Jefferson and Utica Streets. Our mother, Stella, was at his side 24 hours a day.
Stella Lioukas and Terry Bechakas were married in Greece. He had come to America at age 16 with nothing in his pocket and only his shirt on his back. After some years he was able to return to Greece, marry Stella, and bring her back to Buffalo.
In 1977, when George was only 12, Kelly only 10, and Nick only 5, Terry and Stella opened the restaurant at Sheridan and Military Road. George and Kelly worked in the restaurant from the very start, and it wasnt long before Nick would join them. Theyre celebrating the restaurants 25th anniversary this year. In fact, as luck would have it, the Bechakases were celebrating the anniversary of one of their original employees, Linda McCall, on the night of our visit. Linda is still at the Sheridan drive location after 25 years, George said. To honor her, the family gave her an all -expense-paid trip to Las Vegas.
Apparently the Olympic Restaurants enjoy a lot of employee loyalty. Several people have been with them ten years or more.
Kelly, George, and Nick are all products of the Depew school system, where they graduated from Depew High School. George and Nick graduated from Boston University, George with an economics degree, Nick with a degree in communications, Kelly majored in hotel and restaurant management at Niagara University. George also holds a masters degree in business from the University of Buffalo.
Kelly was a manager before any of us, George said. When she was only seventeen, our parents went on a cruise and left Kelly in charge.
Nick is the only Buffalo-born Bechakas who ever worked in another field, and then only as an interne in the news department at WWKB Radio and Kiss 95.
Early on, the family decided their next restaurant had to be near the airport and its nearby hotels. When the property on Genesee street became available, they wasted no time in acquiring it, tearing down the old restaurant that was there, and building the beautiful new Olympic.
By now you may have the impression that the Bechakas family does nothing but work. Not true. All three of them and their families are very active in the Hellenic Orthodox Church downtown at Delaware and West Utica. They also make substantial contributions to other worthy causes such as the Variety Club Telethon.
George and Nick love sports. Were jocks to the fullest, Nick said. They have had Buffalo Bills season tickets for 14 years. Apparently its always a problem deciding who works on Sundays during the football season. Kelly usually winds up taking up the slack, but Nick and George make it up to her by letting her enjoy her favorite recreation, vacations in the Caribbean.
Future plans are anybodys guess. They are already marketing their famous Greek salad dressings, under the Mt. Olympus brand, through Tops and Wegmans in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio. Thats our hobby, Nick says.
Indeed there is a new era in Greek restaurants and Baby Boomers like the Bechakas family are making it happen.
Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.
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