Theodore “Dorrie” Karras is president and CEO of  OPA! of Greece.

Theodore “Dorrie” Karras

Can you explain the history of OPA! and how it started?

Karras: Opa! started 20 years ago in 1998. Founders Nick Tiginagas and Don Gebauer opened the first location in Market Mall in Calgary. At the time, Greek food was not prevalent in food courts. People’s concept of a Greek restaurant was limited to the taverna-style, sit-down restaurants with blue and white table cloths. Opa! changed that.

The Market Mall location became popular as it was one of the first healthy food options at that time and it popularized Greek food as a quick-service option with customers.

Nick’s passionate presentation along with the quality of the food offerings won customers over to trying it, and he eventually gained a strong, loyal following.

Chinook Centre opened a couple of years later and soon Opa! expanded to other locations throughout Ontario and Western Canada.

How many locations do you have today and where?

Karras: There are currently 94 locations open across the Prairies, B.C. and Ontario.

This year marks our 20th anniversary and to celebrate we are offering a new menu item – a twist on our current gyro pita wrap meal that’s more in line with traditional street-food pitas popular in Greece. Every purchase of an authentic gyro pita wrap meal or one of six other menu items, including souvlaki and salad and the Opa! platter, gives customers the opportunity to enter to win the 10-day trip of a lifetime to Greece with stops in Mykonos, Santorini and Athens. Customers can also scratch and instantly win one of over 93,000 food prizes, including Olympus bowls, pita wraps, beverages, fries and baklava. Every ticket has two chances to win.

Why do you think you have been successful in growing this food chain?

Karras: Opa! was the first Greek quick service restaurant chain in Western Canada but also among the first healthier options available to consumers in this segment of the industry. We offered fresh, real food prepared right in front of customers to their specifications. Though this kind of customization has come to be expected by consumers today, 20 years ago, it was a novel idea.

As consumers have become more health conscious and as their pallets have become more adventurous, we’ve also grown alongside them, continuing to develop new menu items that remain faithful to our tradition of offering fresh Greek food at competitive prices served by franchisees and staff who pride themselves on connecting with each customer they serve

The OPA! experience combines fresh Greek and Mediterranean cuisine with friendly customer service. We’re a quick-service Greek restaurant, but that just refers to the time it takes to serve our healthy and lovingly-made dishes. We don’t just want our customers to love their meal, though they will. We want them to feel the gratitude and joy our name promises.

What are your growth plans for the company?

Karras: There are another dozen locations opening in the next year throughout B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, and we are exploring additional markets that will eventually take Opa! coast-to-coast in Canada. We are also opening an American location in the Fashion Square Mall food court in Las Vegas in late spring 2019 with the hopes of expanding that market eventually as well.

Our franchisees are a big part of our success story, and we’re always recruiting new franchisees to open well-researched locations in helping us achieve this goal. Our growth strategy has always been consistent with our commitment to our customers – quality always comes first.

We are also developing new menu offerings to continue to bring the best of Greek and Mediterranean food to the market.

How difficult has it been to operate a restaurant business these days considering rising operating costs and labour costs?

Karras: The restaurant business has always been a challenge. Today’s even more challenging given rising taxes, rising labour costs and rising food costs. But we’re always exploring new methods and supply lines to try to reduce overhead costs for our franchisees – who are all small business owners – so we can continue to offer customers competitive prices without sacrificing the quality of our product or customer service. These values are integral to everything we do at Opa!

– Mario Toneguzzi

opa food greek

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.