Tom Chinonis may have appeared to be the black sheep of his family when he left the restaurant business to earn his business and law degrees, but the opening of a Greek restaurant he started with his brother in Troy proves he never really strayed too far from his roots.
Chinonis, who opened in 2008 with his brother Dennis, said the idea behind the restaurant was to combine casual and healthful dining with a taste of the foods they grew up eating. And to do so in a quick way.
"It's fast casual, or quick serve," Tom Chinonis said Friday as he looked over the restaurant's dining room on Crooks, just north of Big Beaver. "It's not a Coney."
Chinonis, who worked as a corporate lawyer in downtown Detroit, said he and Dennis got a taste of the restaurant business from their father, who started YaYa's Flame Broiled Chicken with the brothers' uncle. Dennis Chinonis oversaw operations of the business for nearly a decade before he redesigned the eateries.
The brothers plan to franchise the new restaurant in 2012. Tom Chinonis said potential investors have already been asking about franchise opportunities, and that he hopes locations will spread to areas in southeast Michigan that are similar to Troy in business and community make-up, as well as some locations on the west side of the state, such as Grand Rapids.
Tom Chinonis said he and Dennis spent about three years designing the concept, menu and working to open their restaurant. The biggest challenge, he said, was finding a process that would be able to serve fresh and authentic Greek food in a fast and easy manner. In the end, he said, menu selections and experimenting with different procedures served up the perfect product.
"It's very authentic," he said, comparing the food to that of other Greek restaurants and Greek-style Coney Islands. "I would challenge our lemon rice soup to any Ya-Ya's in town... The only difference is, we don't spend two hours preparing it every day."
Kalamata Greek Grill makes nearly everything from scratch, and uses an assembly-line style preparation board and menu, which appear to be simple at first glance. But Chinonis said coming up with a system that was fast and maintained quality was the biggest challenge to opening the business.
Menu items include Saganaki (melted Greek cheese with pita chips), spinach pie, kabobs, pastitsio (Greek lasagna), grilled vegetables, baklava, as well as other traditional items. But the signature dish is the gyro, which comes in different varieties, including Traditional (tomato, red onion and Tzatziki sauce), Detroit style (Lettuce, tomato, Feta cheese and creamy Greek dressing), Zesty (tomato, pepperorcini and zesty Feta dip), Caesar (lettuce, Parmesan cheese and Kalamata Caesar dressing) and Greek cowboy style (green pepper, red onion, and greek barbeque sauce).
Kalamata Greek Grill has won the Detroit Metro Times' Best New Restaurant in Detroit award and the Best Greek Restaurant in Detroit Vote 4 the Best Award from WDIV-TV, Channel 4.
Chinonis said he wants the restaurant to earn the award for serving up the best gyro in Detroit.
Cody Gordon, of Detroit, tried Kalamata for the first time about a week ago while taking a break from his job at a Troy auto dealer. Normally, he said, he gets Greek food in Greektown, in downtown Detroit.
"It was good," Gordon said. "One ofthe best Greek food restaurants I ever ate -- and I've only been to two of them. I usually go to Greektown ... the Golden Fleece."