Finding the secret to success
Gyromania ranked fourth best restaurant by Yelp; owner says hospitality is key
A small strip mall plaza by Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country is home to the fourth best restaurant in the United States, according to Yelp.
But is that impressive? See for yourself sometime if you are interested in gyros, omelettes with lots of spices, spicy feta and falafel balls.
What you’ll hear upon arrival is a loud greeting: “OPA!” Cheered loudly by the staff, who will likely have turned around to beam welcoming smiles at you, you’ll feel your presence was definitely noticed.
“‘Opa’ is an expression that is like a celebration of life,” said Gyromania manager Joey Castillo. “It’s like having someone in your home every time you’re here. The minute you walk in, the minute you leave — we’re here to greet you.”
This was the sort of customer-first attitude Gyromania owner Kyriakos Champi wanted to cultivate when he first opened the restaurant nearly nine months ago.
Champi, who had a food truck in Beverly Hills for a year prior, saw a need for an authentic Greek cuisine experience in this valley.
He first made his home in the states in La Crescenta, but he eventually moved to Santa Clarita to see if his vision could be executed here.
Now it’s up and running. Champi said customers tend to gravitate toward the lamb gyro, but have other selections of meat in chicken, pork and beef.
Other interesting, untraditional dishes include the saganaki, which is cheese that lights on fire; the spanakopita, a Greek spinach pie; the Dolmas Plate, which is a grape leaf wrap served with stuffed mushrooms and pita bread; and avgolemono, the iconic Greek lemon and egg soup with chicken and rice.
Breakfast is served here, too: the standard array of eggs, french toast, pancakes and bacon are available, but there are also Greek omelettes with feta cheese, oregano, grated eggs and a variety of meats, as well.
He moved to the U.S. six years ago knowing very little English, but worked in restaurants while dreaming of building his own.
“The food business has been and is my life,” he said. “I used to run restaurants and work for my uncles in my home country (of Cyprus). When I worked here, it was very hard, because I didn’t speak the language here.”
But Champi kept at it, working for a local family-owned restaurant/chain and working for free at times as he moved up from busboy eventually to assistant manager.
“I learned English and Spanish, and I was seeking to prove myself,” he said. “I worked for free and really saw the big picture of what it means to own a restaurant.”
Champi said he doesn’t view himself as a success story, despite holding a 5-star average rating on Yelp. He said the most authentic thing he can offer is his gift of hospitality.
“I work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, and I always want to treat a customer like family,” he said. “Because it’s the customer who will put you in the stars. If you’re a business that (uses) shortcuts, and you serve low quality food and you overprice everything, it won’t work out.”
Eventually, Gyromania will hopefully expand to 200 locations worldwide, but for now Champi is taking pride in the branch right here in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“I took a chance when I moved here,” he said. “I really believe specializing is the way to go. I was surprised we got so popular and were rated so high. That’s not our goal — to be popular. Our goal is to just serve customers, make them feel welcome and give them a great meal.”
Gyromania is located at 20655 Soledad Canyon Road.
Cooks Edgar Fernandez, left, and Mario Castillo display a Gyro and Greek omelet at Gyromania in Santa Clarita on Thursday.