Sixty years ago, Ted and Soula Jovaras left their home on the Greek island of Lemnos and emigrated to the United States.
After settling in the Kansas City area, Ted got a job as a waiter. Eventually he saved enough money to open his own restaurant. The Bell Cafe served American fare — and a few Greek menu items — for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the intersection of 39th and Main Streets in midtown Kansas City.
The Greek restaurateur loved getting customers hooked on his homeland’s dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, rice and herbs) and gyros (pita bread folded over meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie). So in 1982, Ted Jovaras went all-in on Greek food by selling The Bell Cafe and opening a new concept called Mr. Gyros at 83rd Street and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park.
In the early ‘80s, the only places to get Greek food locally was at festivals and full-service restaurants such as Tasso’s Greek Restaurant, says the Jovarases’ son, Chris Jovaras, who now runs the business with his wife, DeeDee. In the early days, many Mr. Gyros customers were unfamiliar with menu items such as pita bread, feta cheese and tzatziki, a dipping sauce made with yogurt, cucumber and herbs.
“Greek food has become more and more popular throughout the years,” Chris Jovaras says.
Still, some customers aren’t sure how to pronounce “gyro.” (His advice? Add an “o” to the end of the word “year”).
Mr. Gyros’ signature item is, of course, the gyro sandwich ($5.95). It consists of puffy pita bread stuffed with thin slices of gyro meat (choose from chicken or a blend of 85 percent beef, 10 percent lamb and 5 percent spices such as garlic and oregano) cooked while rotating in a vertical broiler. Tomatoes, onions and cool tzatziki sauce round out the satisfying sandwich.
Those with bigger appetites should spring for the gyro plate ($7.95), a dinner-sized portion of gyro meat served with olives, chunks of feta cheese and triangles of pita bread.
Mr. Gyros has grown along with the popularity of Greek food: In 1996, the Jovaras family constructed a new building across from the restaurant’s original location in Overland Park. They remodeled last year by adding gleaming tile floors, stone accents and a mural of ancient Greek citizens.
Mr. Gyros added a second location in south Overland Park in 2007 and a third in Olathe in 2010. This month, construction begins on a Leawood location at 117th Street and Roe Avenue.
The restaurant’s menu has remained unchanged over the years, with a few exceptions. The KC Strip Gyro ($6.75), stuffed with marinated strips of steak, was added to appease customers looking for familiar American food on the authentic Greek menu. Hummus, which hails from the Middle East, was also added after repeat requests.
Ted Jovaras, now 86, has retired from the business — but his recipes are still followed daily. Regulars love the Greek salads ($6.75) and traditional casseroles such as mousaka ($7.75), layered with eggplant and ground beef, and pastichio ($7.75), a baked pasta dish that reminds me of lasagna.
The dessert menu features a baklava recipe that was perfected by Soula Jovaras. The sweet, sticky treat is made by layering 30 sheets of fillo dough with honey, walnuts and cinnamon. The baklava costs $2.15 per piece and also comes in chocolate and coconut versions.
On a recent Thursday evening, I ogled the flaky-looking baklava as I briefly waited for my to-go order, which consisted of a gyro, salad, red pepper hummus and pastichio. The big meal was wrapped neatly in foam containers bundled tightly into plastic bags with plenty of napkins.
I’m not the only one who likes Greek food fast: About 25-30 percent of Mr. Gyros business comes from carry-out orders.
After 33 years, “We’ve got it down,” says Chris Jovaras.
Enterprise reporter Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every second and fourth week of the month. Contact her by calling 816-234-4823, emailing email@example.com or on Twitter @sarah_gish.
Mr. Gyros Greek Food & Pastry
Location: 8234 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park (Mr. Gyros also has locations at 14983 W. 119th St. in Olathe and 8575 W. 135th St. in Overland Park.)
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed on Sunday.
Credit Cards: Yes
Parking: Free lot
Don’t Miss: The popular gyro sandwich ($5.95) wraps gyro meat in pita bread with sliced onion and tomato. The pastichio ($7.75 for a full order or $4.15 as a side) is a lasagna-like casserole made with ground beef and macaroni. For dessert, try the opera cake ($4.15), a three-layer chocolate cake with layers of hazelnut cream, chocolate mousse, whipped cream and dark chocolate frosting.
Vegetarian: Try the roasted red pepper hummus ($4.25), the Greek salad ($6.75) and/or the vegetarian gyro ($5.75) — pita bread stuffed with shredded lettuce, onion, tomato, cucumber, bell peppers, feta and American cheese.
More info: mrgyroskc.com