Find­ing the se­cret to suc­cess

Gy­ro­ma­nia ranked fourth best restau­rant by Yelp; owner says hos­pi­tal­ity is key

The Signal - - Food & Entertainment - By Crys­tal Duan Sig­nal Staff Writer

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.

Dan Wat­son/The Sig­nal

Cooks Edgar Fer­nan­dez, left, and Mario Castillo dis­play a Gyro and Greek omelet at Gy­ro­ma­nia in Santa Clarita on Thurs­day.

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