BY NICOLE CLARK
Golf’s Steak House and Seafood, a business that was built on determination and satisfaction, is celebrating its 40th year of operation.
Mike Kanellis, founder and owner of the restaurant located at 598 Lancaster St. W. in Kitchener, came to Canada at the age of 24 from a small village in Greece called Elaiochori, which is known for its olive oil.
Kanellis washed dishes for 10 months before he accepted another position where he was able to cook and learn English. From there he worked hard and saved his money to buy that very same restaurant only three years after coming to Canada.
After about nine years of working in the business and picking up all there was to know about it, he purchased Golf’s current location in 1975. The site had a historic building from the late 1800s on it which overlooked the Grand River. It was once named Bridgeport Casino, yet it was not an actual casino, instead being used for community dances, events and band performances.
It was abandoned and required ceilings, floors, air-conditioning and much more. Kanellis put $250,000 into major renovations to create Golf’s.
“It was just an empty shell,” he said.
Four years after opening, the City of Kitchener began to build the sewage system for the area. Shortly after that, residential development began to blossom as well.
When Golf’s opened, there were not many residents in the area; they would have had to drive to get to the business. People would ask him, “Where are you going to get the people from?” when they heard of his location.
After the implementation of water and the sewage system, the number of local residents increased which resulted in more reservations and customers.
When Golf’s started out, they only served steaks, until Kanellis discovered people wanted more than that. In came the seafood and other meats.
“We brought in fish and chicken and prime rib. We changed the menu over the years according to the demand,” Kanellis said.
Sunday brunch was added more than 20 years ago.
“It’s very popular. Sometimes we can’t get any more people in; we have to stop taking reservations,” said Kanellis.
The first five years of operation were the busiest for Kanellis personally.
“The first five years I didn’t have too much leisure time,” he said with a laugh.
Not long after though he was able to start taking some time off.
During the time of opening and establishing the restaurant Kanellis had a wife and three young sons. Finding the balance necessary to be the head of the family and of a restaurant was not easy.
“I tried to spend time with the family but, unfortunately, I didn’t do it as much as I should have,” Kanellis admits, adding he knew he could not fail at the business because then he would not have been able to provide for his family. “You see, it’s something you have to balance. I tried my best to balance, but the business has to carry on in order to have the income to provide for your family.”
He was able to send his children to school to study whatever it was they desired. If they did not go to school, then they would have to work, and there were always opportunities for them at the restaurant.
In fact, all three of his sons – Tom, George and Gus – have positions in the family business to this day. Tom works behind the scenes on repair, maintenance, payroll and accounting. George primarily works as manager of the dining room and Gus works as the mastermind behind the restaurant’s banquet business.
In their 40th anniversary book, George said, “Looking back, I can’t imagine doing anything else. The restaurant business is like nothing else. It’s in my blood.”
Mike Kanellis continues to enjoy what he does. At 77, he is 12 years past the typical retirement age.
What has kept him motivated to continue for so long? He said it is the satisfaction he feels and the satisfaction he sees from his customers.
“I am proud of the success I have had, I didn’t expect it,” said Kanellis.
The restaurant business isn’t easy, and Kanellis has had times of great stress.
Some of these have been when storms caused the lights to go out during busy times. This would be stressful and disappointing for Kanellis. “But that’s all in the business as they say. You’ll have things break down, things will go wrong. You try to replace them as soon as you can and then continue on.”
Another extremely stressful time was when he received a phone call on Nov. 28, 1988, at a little past one in the morning, and was told that Golf’s Steak House was on fire.
It was later discovered the fire was caused by electrical shortages in the ceilings.
He had to cancel reservations for 15,000 to 20,000 people who were booked for the upcoming Christmas season.
What was it that kept him going after the fire? “I wasn’t prepared to retire at that time,” said Kanellis. “I got angry and mad. I was eager to get back and building again.”
Even though it has been 29 years since that night, Kanellis said, “I thought it was yesterday. I’ll not forget that night.”
In the wake of the fire, customers had all kinds of questions for Kanellis. They wanted to know whether he would be opening again and when that was expected to happen. “I would like to be back in business as soon as I can,” he remembers answering.
He said he has no regrets in regards to the business that has kept him busy for 40 years.
In celebration of the anniversary, he donated $40,000 which was divided between 10 charities – Grand River Hospital Foundation Cancer Centre, St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation Cardiac Centre, Cambridge Memorial Hospital Foundation (medical equipment), Greek Orthodox Community Church of Saint Peter and Paul, Greek Ladies Philoptochos Society, YWCA, Habitat for Humanity, Community Support Connections Meals on Wheels, Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington Dufferin, and St. John’s Kitchen.
“The community has supported me over the 40 years. Without the community support, I would not be here,” Kanellis said.
“The success is the knowledge I have and the experience I received while working at other places, and the determination to work hard and to accomplish whatever my goals are, regardless of how many hours I have to work,” he added.
As for the future of Golf’s, Kanellis believes his sons are going to continue on with the business.
“That’s why I am here, to help and lend a hand,” he said.
For further information or to make a reservation, call 519-579-4050.