Lover of food, especially Greek food.
Tim Karras, owner of Karras' Way Restaurant.
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
Think of Greece, and you think of centuries-old architecture, beautiful beaches and, of course, food.
Just ask Greek-born Tim Karras of Renfrew, who came to Canada as a six-year-old and for whom food remains a treasured connection to his homeland.
In fact, since his first job as a teenager, he has continued to work in nothing but the restaurant business, as a bus boy, water, manager and chef. Now 54, he’s starting his own restaurant, with deeply Greek and Renfrew connections.
His first, and most recent, jobs were at Renfrew’s Flamingo Dining Lounge, where he came to work as a teenager when it was called Swingers.
Karras’s dad sent him to Peter Tsarouchas’s restaurant, so he could work out his life after having a few personal issues in Montreal. About 40 years later, Karras remembers that first day in Renfrew.
He got off the Greyhound bus late at night, walked over to Swingers, and walked in the door, only to see a chair thrown over his head.
There was a fight going on, but the restaurant was also where Karras later found peace and stability.
He started cooking for customers, and he ended up marrying Ruth, one of the customers.
Years later, Karras looks back on that time, and other jobs related to the restaurant business that brought him work in Renfrew, Calabogie, Arnprior and, one of his food-favourite city in the world, Montreal, where places of employment included the prestigious Ritz Carlton.
And what better place to learn than Montreal, which Karras calls the food city of the world.
“There is no other place in the world that has more restaurants and better food than Montreal. Not even New York,” he says.
Borrowing a few chapters from his several food experiences in Montreal, Karras says his food will be homemade and always fresh.
“I will not serve anything unless it’s homemade and fresh,” says Karras. “My name will be based on that.”
He says he’s also trying to make it cheaper to eat in his restaurant than at home for many foods, citing the example of a 10-piece, extra-large pizza for $22.95.
He also stresses that customers will get to try three basic Greek specialties with unique and appealing taste. One — specific Greek foods, such as stuffed peppers, oven-baked chicken with lemonated potatoes, and salads. Two — grilled subs. And three — Montreal-style pizza.
“I’m trying to do a different taste here,” says Karras, who says his subs have a different taste because of the grilling process, use of charcoal, sauce and high-end ingredients.
“The Greek food is all my mom’s recipes passed on from generation to generation. They’re probably 200 years old. They’re very authentic,” he adds.
“Food and I. I love eating food, and I love eating Greek food, maybe because I grew up in my mom’s kitchen. So I’m cooking (for customers) what I love to eat.”
The restaurant’s pizza also has deep Greek, and Montreal, links.
Refusing to reveal the pizza’s specific ingredients, he will say the recipe came from his cousin Cristo in Laval, Que., just a few months ago.
Karras’s dad used to take the family to the northern Montreal suburb every Sunday years ago, when Tim fell in love with the pizza.
“He would only charge us half-price because my dad was cheap,” he remembers.
While remaining vague, Karras says the dough and the tomatoes in the sauce are different.
“A few places in Montreal have also copied his pizza, so that’s why I call it Montreal pizza,” he adds.
Several years ago, Tim and Ruth Karras and their children lived in Montreal, but they returned to Renfrew to find the home that will remain home.
“Home is whatever you feel it is. I am a perfect example,” says Karras.
“This is home to me … when I moved back here, I realized this was the place to be, to bring up kids … Everybody knows everybody. People are friendly. You fall down on the street, somebody is going to pick you up. In the city, they’re too busy, they’ll step over you and keep on going.”
“I’m in love with the town. I fell in love with the town years ago, and I will die here, no matter what.”
As for the menu at Karras’ Way Restaurant, the focus is on pickup and delivery, but there’s still room for about 28 people to sit and eat in a restaurant bearing the colours of the Greek national flag — blue and white.
Karras’ Way has about 1,500 square feet, with half that space dedicated to the kitchen, which includes machines for chicken and lamb-beef gyros, and a double-pizza oven to accommodate about a dozen pizzas at a time.
With the opening of a new business, there will inevitably be long hours logged.
Karras is a 5-foot-8, 200-pound bodybuilder who expects his training will be limited in the first few months of the business, which will be open seven days a week.
But he says that’s a normal price to pay.
“I’m excited. I’m not scared,” he says of the business that will have about seven staff members. He’ll run the business with son John. The Karras’ Way Restaurant opened March 10.