WORLDS AWAY: MYTHOS TRANSPORTS DINERS FROM JOPLIN TO GREECE
By Michael Humphrey
George Michalopoulos may be just 33 years old, but he is well-seasoned in the restaurant business. In a sense, you can say he’s been in the business all 33 of those years.
“My parents have always been in the restaurant business since they came to the United States from Greece,” says Michalopoulos, owner and general manager of Mythos Euro Greek Kuzina. “I was born into the restaurant business. Literally born into it. The (labor) pain started in the restaurant and then we had to make it to the hospital.”
Soon after graduating from Missouri State University with management and entrepreneurship degrees, Michalopoulos was back in the family business – which had expanded into hospitality. His parents managed operations for the Ramada Inn in Joplin, while Michalopoulos managed the hotel’s restaurant.
Not that his years in college got him all that far away from the family or the business.
“I was going to go to college in Boston,” he says, “and my parents asked if I would stay close the first year. So I went to the University of Arkansas the first year and then transferred to Missouri State the next year and before you know it, four years had passed and I was in the hotel business.”
Now, for accuracy’s sake, there was also a four-year span where Michalopoulos and his family took a sabbatical from the hectic life of restaurant and hospitality work.
“We moved to Greece for four years,” says Michalopoulos, the oldest of four children, “because we didn’t know our grandparents, uncles and aunts. In the restaurant business, it’s kind of tough to have family time. So my mom and dad decided that they should sell their restaurants and move to Greece. We needed time where we could be a family and do things that families do all the time.”
And in a short time you can see the two themes that drive Michalopoulos’ life – work and family. It’s not always an easy balance, but he sure does come to both honestly.
“As a matter of fact, my parents tried to talk me out of the restaurant business,” he says. “But there’s something about it. You just can’t get out of it.”
So rather than dissuading their son, Andrew and Vicki Michalopoulos ultimately helped him take the largest professional leap of his life in April, 2005, when he opened Mythos, a high-end European-themed restaurant.
“My parents made this possible,” George says. “They showed they have faith that we can succeed with the vision we have. You can never know how to repay that kind of faith. Except to do your best and succeed.”
A culinary tour
Michalopoulos says his goal is to transport his customers.
“A lot of people say they came to dinner here and left Joplin for a while,” Michalopoulos says, despite the fact that Mythos is located right on Ridgeline Road, the main business artery in town.
The décor certainly does suggest a different place and time, with colorful faux finished walls, Corinthian columns and tucked-away alcoves.
But what really takes you away is the food. Mythos may have a Greek theme, but it is more than willing to cross borders to find food which pleases a variety of tastes.
Yes, you will find authentic dolmathas, spicy feta, Greek salad, gyro, leg of lamb, kabobs and moussaka. You can even take a “Tour of Mythos,” that includes a wide range of Greek appetizers and two shots of Ouzo for the full Grecian effect.
But you can also find calamari, crab cakes, pork tenderloin, filet and prawn with lobster consommé, lamb chops, veal Oscar, chicken Lyon and even a good old American Kansas City strip.
And the homemade desserts are no different. You can order the traditional Greek delights of baklava and kataifi, or explore the sweetness of other cultures with a modern version of tiramisu, a falling soufflé with raspberry drizzle, caramel flan and even Death by Chocolate.
“We felt we wanted to and needed to present many cuisines,” Michalopoulos says. “We didn’t feel we’d be successful as strictly a Greek restaurant. But also I love many kinds of foods and wanted to serve a variety here.”
That’s exactly what drew executive chef Vasilios Voutiritsas away from Kansas City.
“I saw (George’s) vision and I admired it,” Voutiritsas says. “George is flexible and he works with me and I work with him and we can be very creative. We can always come up with something different and something new and create that ‘bam.’”
Whether the Greek cuisine is the main selling point, or the great variety, Voutiritsas certainly has the résumè to prove he can do both.
Voutiritsas arrived in the United States from Greece at the age of 18 and immediately entered the restaurant business. He worked at Tasso’s Greek Restaurant in Kansas City and the Hyatt Regency before he decided to formalize his education at the Johnson County Community College Culinary Arts Program.
“After working at the Hyatt Regency, I realized all of the apprentices there knew more things and were more interested and showed all this creativity,” Voutiritsas says. “I thought, well, maybe I should go to school and learn some of that.”
Voutiritsas, 46, says his roots help him create authentic Greek food, but his training carries him the rest of the way.
“Growing up in Greece, I know all of the Greek dishes, and I came in here and made them in the more authentic way,” he says. “But the variety is what motivates me. I love Italian food, and French and German. And at this point, I’m more American than Greek.”
Catering to southwest Missouri
Michalopoulos decided when he opened the restaurant to make it a dinner-only venture.
“I was thinking about growing up in the business and the amount of time you get with your family,” says Michalopoulos, who is married with two children. “I thought if I opened a dinner-only restaurant, it would give me more time with my family.”
It hasn’t really worked out that way. Both the realities of making ends meet and fulfilling demand put Michalopoulos in the restaurant early in the morning – either to cater an event or to open the restaurant to private events during the day.
By choosing to stay closed for lunch, but being very open to hosting events both on- and off-site, Michalopoulos has made Mythos a hot commodity for groups looking for high-end food during the daytime.
“We realized right away this had to be an important part of our business,” he says. “We will cater almost anything you can imagine. We can do service straight from our menu, but we also do barbecue, Italian, anything. You name it.”
Private space for business or pleasure
Whether planners are looking for private dining for lunch or dinner, Michalopoulos provides for a wide range of group sizes.
For medium-sized groups, there are two options:
* The main dining room seats 80 comfortably in banquet style and a few more if a group wants to set tables restaurant style.
* On the other side of the restaurant, which is split by a lobby and bar area, there is a private dining room that seats 50 banquet style.
For smaller groups, there are several options:
* An elevated nook looks out on the main dining room through arched openings, but can be made more private with draping. The area seats 20 for a banquet setting.
* An even smaller alcove, which also looks out on the main room, can seat 4 to 6.
* Finally, the most popular alcove seats 6 to 8 at a round table tucked in the front corner of the restaurant.
“Because groups have been so important to our business,” Michalopoulos says, “and because it is driven by loyal customers, we are very open and flexible to create the space and event needed.”
(Michael Humphrey is the Contributing Editor from Kansas City, Mo.)
Mythos Euro Greek Kuzina
1306 S. Rangeline Rd.
Joplin, MO 64801