The Happy Greek now open in Independence

Restaurateur George Englezos, the former owner of the Olympic Grill, 9100 U.S. Highway 40, has fair reason not to think of himself as happy.

Seven months ago, he was shot in the face during a botched robbery at the Olympic Grill. The injury left him hospitalized for three months, and he bears its scar. But the bullet, which exited the back of his neck, missed his spinal cord — a miracle that informs the name of his new venture, the Happy Greek. The restaurant opened last week at 1003 East 23rd Street, which is good news for the loyal following Englezos had built for his Greek dishes and gyro sandwiches.

Englezos is operating the new venture with his ex-wife, Denise Pugh — they’ve remained close friends since their divorce three decades ago — who refused to let him return to the Highway 40 location. (The perpetrator of the crime remains at large. The old storefront is now a Taco Street.) He was wary of starting anew, but Pugh prodded him back into action.

“I told him that he couldn’t just sit around and do nothing,” Pugh says. “I said, ‘Let’s do something together. So I put my nursing career on the back burner while we got this new venture going. And it’s been busy from the minute we opened the doors. So many people love George and were devastated by what happened to him. Last weekend, we could barely keep up with the demand. We had people standing around waiting for a table to turn. We were packed. We are all happy that George is alive and back in business. And his customers are happy to see him back.”

The new venue, which features eat-in dining (patrons still order at a counter), was formerly Applewood BBQ. Englezos has added some Aegean-style decor, but Pugh says she put her foot down on the array of hand-printed signs that were a signature of his previous two restaurants (the original Olympic Grill was on Truman Road). “I just said we had to draw the line somewhere,” she says.

Englezos is back in the kitchen, slicing gyro meat (a lamb-and-beef blend), grilling pita and frying falafel. He’s more subdued than he was before the shooting, but still cheerful and energetic.

“He’s the same old George,” says Pugh, who has enlisted the former couple’s two daughters, Evie and Ardis, to work in the restaurant, as well as her third daughter, Alexa Samenus. The restaurant serves steakburgers, veggie burgers and Philly cheese steaks as well as gyro sandwiches, a generous gyro platter, and a gyro pizza. The $8 Hercules plate, on the starter menu, combines hummus, pita, tzatziki sauce, spanakopita, feta and the stuffed grape leaves known as dolmathes.

The Happy Greek serves only soft drinks and iced tea and offers food from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It’s closed on Sunday.

Categories: Dining, News