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Greek family brings cuisine to this area

By Roberta Baumann, Managing Editor
Waunakee Tribune
December 28, 2006

Tucked inside the new Shell Station on Hwy. M, travelers and commuters can now find an ethnic meal to carry out or to enjoy on the premises.

Gus Kyriakopoulos and his family have opened Athens Gyros, a restaurant featuring traditional Greek food within the convenience store at Willow Road.

True gyro connoisseurs probably know Kyriakopoulos already. He has been making gyros and managing Greek restaurants in Madison since the early 1970s. He started his career at Athens Restaurant at Gilman and State streets and remembers meeting Jimmy Carter during that former president’s campaign in Madison.

From there, he worked at Parthenon Gyros on State Street, which he managed for many years.

“My dream was to have my own restaurant,” Kyriakopoulos said.

He had wanted to open a restaurant in Waunakee and learned that developer Nick Ladopoulos planned to build a gas station and convenience store at
Hwy. M. And so the Trader Gus, Inc. Shell Station and Athens Gyros came to be.

“Gas stations, the way they work, they have to have a restaurant,” Ladopoulos said. Usually, those restaurants are larger franchises such as Subway or Pizza Hut stores, he said.

“We felt this combination on a major road would do well,” Ladopoulos said.

Kyriakopoulos emigrated to the United States from Kalamata, Greece, in the 1970s searching for a better opportunity, he said.

His father had a tavern in Kalamata, where the olives are grown. His family grew grapes and olives and made wine, he said. Kyriakopoulos’ godparents brought him to the United States, and he has many family members living in Chicago, he said.

Kyriakopoulos moved to Madison and began preparing gyros, a process that requires more effort and skill than shaping a beef patty for a hamburger.

The meat for the gyro sandwich is a combination of ground beef and lamb -- two parts lamb and one part beef, Kyriakopoulos explained. The mixture is seasoned with imported oregano from Greece, pepper and salt.

Ladopoulos noted that the Greek herbs are superior to those grown in other parts of the world.

“Greece is one of the best places for growing spices," he said.

After blending the meat and seasonings, Kyriakopoulos shapes the mixture into the conical roast to be cooked, sliced, and served on warm pita bread with tomato, onions and cucumber sauce.

Kyriakopoulos makes all of the dishes fresh himself, he said. That includes the tzatziki sauce from yogurt, cucumbers and herbs, served over the sandwiches.

The restaurant offers other Greek specialties, such as souvlaki -- grilled chicken or pork served with tzatziki, tomato and onion on pita break. Also on the menu is Greek chicken roasted on a spit served with herb roasted potatoes or rice and pita bread. Spanakopita, a spinach pie made with. feta cheese in filo dough, is also available.

The restaurant also offers salads, and more American staples such as hamburgers, French fries and other sandwiches.

It also sells Greek grocery item such as feta cheese and olives.

Kyriakopoulos’ wife, Angela, makes all of the traditional Greek desserts herself. The couple’s daughters, Theresa and Matina, also work at the store.

Ladopoulos and Kyriakopoulos are planning a grand opening for the restaurant this spring. Athens Gyros also serves beer and wine and has patio seating, so they are aiming for a true celebration -- complete with Greek dancers, Ladopoulos said.

Kyriakopoulos seems pleased to see so many familiar faces in his new restaurant.

“I’ve made a lot of friends over the years,” he said. “I never realized the amount of customers from Parthenon’s who were from Waunakee.”

This profile of Trader Gus and Athens Gyros restaurant was written by Roberta Baumann of the Waunakee Tribune and appeared in their December 28, 2006 print edition. 
It has been posted here with her kind permission.

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