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The King of Gyros

The oldest of four brothers, Yanni Chalkias wasn’t the first in his family to find his way into the restaurant business, but he was one of the youngest. Having immigrated to Cleveland from Greece just shy of his tenth birthday, he recalled the early challenges of a new land and a new language. “In school, [...]
J.R. McMillan



The oldest of four brothers, Yanni Chalkias wasn’t the first in his family to find his way into the restaurant business, but he was one of the youngest. Having immigrated to Cleveland from Greece just shy of his tenth birthday, he recalled the early challenges of a new land and a new language.

“In school, we only had 45 minutes of English. And the rest of the day, you had to already know English,” he chided. “That’s why I always did well in math—the other kids were jealous because I always scored higher than they did and I just got here. But I learned English in the restaurant.”

Chalkias eventually excelled, but his first classroom was the kitchen—peeling a few potatoes, washing a few dishes after school—embracing a new language and culture through interaction with employees.

Not unlike nearly every American restaurant today, the kitchen is still home to immigrants. Behind every counter and cooktop is someone who took a leap of faith, leaving family and familiarity to find a new future. Ethnic communities offer support for recent arrivals and help to retain ethnic identity through customs and cuisine. But it can also be insulating and isolating, preventing new neighbors from interacting and sharing their common culture.

Yanni eventually relocated to Columbus, where extended family were already established in the restaurant business. In 1987, his parents opened Vaso’s Greek Restaurant. But just four years later, Yanni saw the opportunity to introduce Greek food to a wider audience with what is now called a “fast casual” concept.

“Vaso’s was full service, so I wanted to do something different—gyros, fries, salads, and a few desserts. That was it,” Chalkias explained. He set his sights on a former Taco Bell off Hamilton Road, despite some of the challenges it posed. “They built it just like they did in California, so it had single-paned glass and no insulation.”

Since the extensive remodeling effort several years ago, it’s hard to find the old bones of that Taco Bell, but I remember them well. When I first moved to Columbus two decades ago, finding decent Greek food was high on my priority list.

My first real job in college was right across the street from a Greek joint that luckily kept the same late hours as the newspaper. And I used to ditch class in high school on occasion to grab carryout from a tiny Greek place out by the interstate. My father, while stationed at Quantico, became lifelong friends with the Greek owner of a local restaurant who also learned English in the kitchen and from his Marine patrons. The former fisherman and sponge diver even sent a cab full of wine and food to the maternity ward at the base hospital when I was born. I may not have Greek in my DNA, but it’s always been in my blood.

That’s probably why King Gyros seemed so familiar in those early days, and why it still does. Despite the aesthetic improvements and expanded menu, it’s still the same place that used to have a bathroom outside and around the back. And it’s why few family or friends who come to Columbus to visit leave without going there. It’s still a tight-knit, family restaurant—and whether you work there or eat there, you’re part of it.

“We survived 20 years like that, with just four tables here and three tables over there. But we had a lot of carryout and a lot of drive-thru service,” Chalkias noted. “There was catering too, but we had to do something. We had to expand.”

Rather than uproot the restaurant, he explored ways to expand in the existing space. A new dining room and patio seating with interior restrooms solved the capacity problem. An Acropolis-inspired façade and Mediterranean murals eliminated the obvious vestiges of the building’s taco tenure.

“Of course, all of this was happening right as the economy was collapsing, so some people thought I was crazy,” he recalled. “But I decided we weren’t going to survive otherwise.”

The renovations were further complicated by the decision not to close to potentially complete the project sooner. “We didn’t close a single day. We’re already closed on Sundays and holidays, but we didn’t close once during the entire process,” Chalkias said.

The new dining room and outside elevation were completed while the old dining area and drive-thru remained open. Only when the additions were finished were they finally connected.

“We worked with the health department and showed them if we did it this way, we’d never have to close the kitchen,” he explained. “We worked all night putting down tile on one of those two-day holiday weekends, but we didn’t grout everything in until Tuesday night. We opened Monday without any grout.”

It wasn’t just customer consideration that kept King Gyros open without interruption, it was concern for his employees as well.

“Our employees have been here for years. They needed to work, and we didn’t want to lose them. They’re our family too,” he said. “When someone new starts here and seven of our employees have been here more than eight years, that says something to them.”

Expanded space created opportunity for an expanded menu of traditional dishes and family recipes. Tender souvlaki (seasoned tips of filet mignon), fried calamari (breaded squid), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), and spanakopita (spinach pie)—as well as some interpretations of more Midwestern fare, like cabbage rolls stuffed with a mix of ground lamb and beef with decidedly Greek seasoning and sauce.

But there were some items that didn’t long endure. Begoto (fried smelts) weren’t an easy sell. Nor were moussaka (think shepherd’s pie) and pastitsio (somewhere between lasagna and a meaty baked mac and cheese).

“I grew up eating moussaka and pastitsio,” Chalkias explained. “It must be a generational thing.”

The kids, it seems, just aren’t keen on casseroles.

That’s probably true given the success of other menu items, like the expanded dip options with variations of hummus, eggplant, and garlic. And the feta bowls with a base of saffron rice, gyro, chicken, or souvlaki, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, and peppers, are a Greek reinvention of an increasingly familiar fast casual standard.

Never one to rest on his laurels (bad Greek pun intended), Chalkias is connecting with younger clientele through an active social media presence to fight the generational drift that slowly dooms family restaurants, as seen recently with the closing of The Florentine. The unique selection of Greek beer and wine also attracts the Yelp crowd and helps tempt and introduce the authentic charm to folks well beyond Whitehall.

The irony of starting as an alternative to a full-service restaurant and eventually becoming one hasn’t been lost on Chalkias, nor are the long odds of success with any restaurant offering ethnic fare outside a well-established ethnic neighborhood.

“We’re supported by the Greek church, and hope to have more special events like our anniversary with Greek music and dancers,” he said. “But it’s our customers, our staff, and our community that have helped us make it this far.”

King Gyros and Chalkias are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. For more, visit

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Food & Drink

National Brisket Day is Tomorrow!

Julian Foglietti



Photo by Brian Kaiser

With meat shortages starting to take their toll and National Brisket Day around the corner here's a roundup of some spots you can go to to get your brisket fix.

Legacy Smoke House

With their main location in Hilliard and a food truck moving throughout the city, Legacy Smoke House is a solid choice for brisket on National Brisket Day, just be sure to get there while supplies last. Enjoy!

Pecan Pennys

Just off Main Street, Pecan Pennys is ready to fulfill your brisket needs. If your looking to feed a family though be sure to get your orders in advance as they're requesting 24 hours notice on dinner bundles.

Ray-Ray's Hog Pit

With locations in Franklinton, Westerville, Clintonville and Powell Ray Ray's Hog Pit is open for business with brisket stocked at all locations. #NationalBrisketDay is the best day!

Hoggy’s Restaurant and Catering

Located on Bethel Road, Hoggy’s will be stocking brisket for both dine-in or carryout. Feel free to stop in or stop by!

The Pit

With a new location opened up on Parsons Ave. The Pit BBQ will be offering brisket for the National day. Celebrate with some tasty brisket!

City Barbeque

City Barbeque will be offering brisket for the National day! So get excited and get ready for some yummy BBQ brisket!

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{UPDATED} Indoor Dining: what’s NOT opening?




Los Gauchos

PINS Mechanical Co.

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Hey Pinheads. We're so excited to hear that our world is beginning to reopen! Many of you have reached out asking about our opening plans so we wanted to provide a brief update on Pins Mechanical Co. While we fully trust and support the decisions of our local leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our team members and guests, while not sacrificing the experience that makes Pins, Pins! With that in mind, none of our locations will be opening in May. There are many unknowns with COVID-19 and we hope that taking this extra time will help our guests and teammates feel better about the measures we’ve put in place to keep all of us safe. For example, on top of our already stringent cleaning procedures, we’re installing UV technology at all locations (ensuring you always have clean balls to play with). We’re looking forward to welcoming back our kick-ass team to train and adjust to this new normal. Once our people feel comfortable + confident, we’ll know it’s time to get rollin’ again! Thank you for your incredible support, online sales, photo shares + kind words over the last two months. Even when you couldn’t show up, you showed up and we’ll never forget it! We’re hopeful that everyone will be safe and smart as we begin to reopen the doors to the small businesses that make our communities so special. See you soon, Pinheads!

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Old North Arcade

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Dear friends, . As you are most likely aware, Governor DeWine has permitted the reopening of bars and restaurants for dine-in seating effective 5/21. We are very grateful that our leadership is now offering businesses the choice to do what they think is right. We offer no judgment for the bars and restaurants that are/have chosen to open. However, for our particular business, and for our staff, we still think it's too early. We are going to remain closed this week and next but do hope to open soon. Your understanding and patience is greatly appreciated and we cannot wait to see you all. It is important to us that we apply an extra layer of safety and precaution on top of the govermental recommendations. Tentatively, we are looking at the end of May to reopen in a very limited capacity but we're following local and national developments very closesly so will be quick to bail if things turn south. Your continued support has been quite humbling. Thank you. Stay healthy, support local, and be more than kind to one another. . Cautiously optimistic, . ONA Staff

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Watershed Kitchen + Bar

101 Beer kitchen

They are delaying opening dine-in service until May 26th.

Matt the Miller's Tavern

Stay tuned on social for patio and dine-in updates!

J. Gumbo's

J. Gumbo's will continue to stay open for online ordering for pick up and delivery - stay tuned for dine-in updates.

Mouton on High

The Whitney House

The Whitney House will be opening Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 11 am.

The Guild House

Stay tuned for opening dates!

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Stay safe everyone 💕

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Smoked On High

Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace

The Woodbury

The Woodbury will be opening its doors for dine-in service on June 1 2020.


Roosters are not opening dine-in until May 26th 2020.

The Eagle

The Eagle is temporarily closed - stay tuned on social for updates!

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In light of the government mandated closure of dine-in business for an indeterminable period of time, we’ve made the incredibly hard decision to temporarily close The Eagle Columbus. . Given the truly unprecedented and quickly evolving nature of this health crisis, we’ve been forced to make the best decisions we can, with the information we have. As the true scale of this crisis has been revealed, it’s become impossible to deny the impact this mandate will have on our business and team members. This decision was made as all of our decisions have been: with the health, happiness, well being and best interests of our guests and team members in mind. . The state of Thunderdome Restaurant Group is strong and we look forward to seeing and serving you all on the other side of this. Truth, courage, and be well.

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Lavash Cafe

Tiger + Lily

Tiger + Lily is sticking to carry out for the time being. Follow them on social for updates for dine-in!

Yats Grandview

Red Lobster

Red Lobster is continuing to stick to curbside pickup, delivery, or touchless pick-up.

Harvest Pizza

Bareburger Columbus

Bareburger is opening for dine-in on May 26th, 2020.


City Barbeque

Local Cantina - Creekside, Grandview, Dublin, Westerville, Hilliard Locations

Creekside Local Cantina is delaying opening indoor dining until May 26, 2020.

OH Pizza and Brew

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Don’t be that guy/gal who forces your favorite bar/restaurant to permanently close; here are the rules




Once the flood of COVID-related documentaries start to infiltrate our Netflix and Hulu feeds, one of the most debated topics will be which smoking gun the auteur chooses. NBA player Rudy Gobert recklessly rubbing his hands over every microphone during a press conference days before testing positive comes to mind first. The spring break bro who wouldn’t let the virus stop him from raging will make its rounds. Even the scene at Standard Hall made some people’s skin crawl.

The Ohio Investigative Unit will be doing its best to monitor situations at restaurants and bars in order to prevent any future anecdotes like the ones listed above. Local law enforcement agencies will be assisting the OIU to make sure that establishments are complying with the Dine Safe Ohio order. With the issues that were brought up following the opening of outside dining on May 15, the OIU has made specific stipulations for patrons to follow:

  • 6-foot social distancing between employees AND members of the public
  • patrons must be seated while eating and/or drinking 
  • no more than 10 people to a table
  • no billiards, video/arcade games, dancing, or card playing
  • patrons must follow specific guidelines put in place by restaurant/bar

For those who have no shame dancing by themselves in public, you’re golden. However, patrons can be written up for not following the OIU’s guidelines. 

Some people may be able to shoulder a citation, but bars and restaurants are the ones who have the most to lose here. In a press conference on May 18, Gov. Mike DeWine mentioned that OIU will issue citations that could result in the permanent loss of liquor licenses.

So once again the ball is in the consumer’s court: follow these very simple rules and avoid the risk of putting your favorite restaurants and bars out of business for good. In 2020, being spring break bro is the worst look.

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