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Beverly Ely had wanted to help her son operate his restaurant for a while. Jack Jones has been the franchise owner of Westminster’s the Great Greek Mediterranean Grill, a fast-casual chain with more than 20 national locations, for the past four years. But Jones was hesitant to let his mother pitch in at first. She was 84 years old and had been retired for nearly a decade. This past December, however, the general manager of Jones’ restaurant quit, leaving the spot open to fill. So Ely stepped in.
“I was like, ‘This is just a temporary fix, Jack,’” Ely says. “‘I’ll go in, get a team going, and I won’t be there forever.”
Ely’s confidence came from ample experience in the food industry. She owned a pierogi business in Florida, Pierogi Delights, for five years before passing it on to new proprietorship in 2014. The wholesaler not only manufactured pierogies but also had a small restaurant attached to it where customers could sit down and eat the dumplings in-house. And prior to that, Ely earned 35 years of middle and upper management experience in retail fashion.
Jones eventually agreed to the temporary hire, and Ely hit the ground running. She assembled what she considered a star team in just a few months—something that came easily to her after years in retail management—and gushes about every employee. Ely describes the store manager as an “incredible young woman” to which she credits a lot of the restaurant’s success, and her cook line manager as “someone who can put together a gyro in 43 seconds and inspires everyone else on the line.”
Every Monday morning, Ely has a meeting with her store manager, assistant manager, cook line manager, and prep manager. There, they discuss the successes and shortcomings of the previous week. She believes in bringing up problems proactively so that her team can tackle them in the future. “You have to be hands on in order to be hands off,” Ely says.
This team-centric approach—paired with Ely’s marketing and community outreach efforts—has proven successful. Since Ely’s first day in December, the restaurant has seen a 20 percent increase in sales. Not only has Ely personally connected with and catered events for two local Greek Orthodox churches, but she also has ties with local high schools, hospitals, and hotels.When one high school put on a theater performance of Mamma Mia!, the Great Greek catered food for the cast and crew. And after a Muslim customer asked Ely if she would ever consider serving halal chicken, she made the switch and has served multiple Islamic community centers since then.
Additionally, Ely instituted an in-store senior discount on Wednesdays, which attracted a new crowd to the eatery. “Now I’m a senior citizen, so I know that we like deals,” Ely says. “I chose to offer this on Wednesdays since other restaurants do them on Tuesdays.”
The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill offers all of your classic Mediterranean fare, from gyros drizzled with tzatziki and feta to souvlaki plates and a selection of Greek salads. When asked about her favorite dish, Ely immediately gravitates towards the Great Greek gyro, a pita bread stuffed with beef and lamb and topped with lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, tzatziki, and feta. The salmon plate, a cut of salmon served over rice pilaf and topped with tomatoes, is a close second. Ely is especially proud of the Great Greek’s catering menu, which offers entrées like build-your-own gyro kits for large group settings.
And for dessert, the cookies are a must-try. Called kourabiedes, the cookies are traditionally made with nuts and butter and dusted with powdered sugar in Greek households. Ely bakes them all herself using a recipe inspired by the way Jones’ paternal grandmother used to make them. Ely’s secret ingredient? A hint of lemon.
Ely says little ones who enter the restaurant have become big fans of her cookies. “I go up to their table and I say, ‘You know what, the cookie monster was here this morning, and he left some cookies back there with your name on them. Will mommy let you have a cookie?’ They always say yes, and these kids light up like a Christmas tree,” Ely says. She’ll then go to the back of the store, put a cookie in a to-go box, and write the child’s name on the box to surprise them with.
As for the future of her gig as general manager, Ely thinks she’ll stick to her promise to her son and keep her role until the end of the year. “I see myself in the Great Greek forever, until they take me out the front door boots first. But not as the manager, only as the person who goes in and cheers them on,” she says.
14315 Orchard Parkway, Suite 400, Westminster