Gus and Dimos Dagres have been a lifelong team. The father and son have always been joined at the hip, and they share a mutual admiration for each other as well as a passion for cooking Greek food. Gus, born and raised in Greece, relocated to Chicago, Illinois, when he was 18. Like his mother, he liked to cook, and he passed that passion along to his only son Dimos, who often helped out in the kitchen starting at age 12.
Gus and his three daughters, Tina, Angela and Eleni, along with Dimos, lived in Chicago until 2006 when they moved to Avon and opened Hotcakes Emporium. Several years later, Gus and Dimos decided to venture out and open another restaurant, one that would pay homage to the family’s Greek roots. In April of 2014, the pair opened Opa, finalizing the menu the night before they opened.
Though it can be difficult to mix business and family, Dimos maintains that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My father is my best friend,” he says. “He’s been there for me no matter what, and he has the biggest heart of anyone I know.”
Gus also cherishes the bond he shares with his son.
“We communicate well with each other and understand each other,” Gus says. “He’s an extra right-hand man for me and I’m the same for him.”
Initially, the plan was for Opa to be a small, fast-food place with a drive-through window, but then they decided to spruce it up a bit. Still, the establishment started out relatively modest with just 12 tables. They later added a patio, then expanded the awning on the patio, installed a wind guard, created a bar top, purchased the space next door and opened the shared wall up, and redid their giant mural of Greece.
“We’ve expanded four times in seven years,” Dimos says. “We just felt we needed more seating because lines were creeping up over an hour.”
They never expected the business to grow so much, but they are pleased with the result. Now they have 40 tables inside and 12 outside, and can seat around 200.
The last renovation was complete two weeks before COVID-19 hit. Though Opa, like many restaurants, took a hit for several months, they filled a lot of carry-out orders, and customers were extremely generous in their tips for the staff.
Their menu offers something for everyone’s taste buds. Their most popular dishes are gyros and saganaki (a flaming cheese dish that is flambéed at the table by the waitstaff).
“People love to see that cheese light on fire,” Dimos says. Guests also get a kick out of the staff members who sing “Happy Birthday” to them, then break a giant plate and yell “Opa!” to celebrate the occasion.
“We have younger couples, older couples, families, small children, you name it,” Dimos says. That’s what they want – to cater to everyone.
“We want people to know that they can come in here in the afternoon and get a gyro sandwich and not have to be dressed up, or they can stop by at nighttime, dressed up with a date,” Dimos says. “We want it to be comfortable for everyone.”
They offer large portions of tasty food at reasonable prices.
“The way we prepare the food, the way we keep it and give it to the customer, is 100% quality on service, preparation, everything,” Gus says. “That’s hard to find these days.”
Most of their recipes originate from Greece – specifically from Gus’s mother Konstantina.
“They are family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation for a long time,” Dimos says.
Not only do they have delicious, non-fatty food made with clean spices, fresh herbs and olive oil, but they also offer quality Greek wines.
“Our food is cooked to order,” Dimos says. “Nothing is pre-made for the week.”
Though they do not offer catering or delivery per se, they take bulk orders for events like office parties.
“We put it together buffet-style – for example, a pan of gyros, a pan of shish kebabs, a pan of rice,” Dimos says.
They can accommodate large parties in the restaurant as long as guests call ahead to let them know (for parties over six).
“We’ve had between 40 and 60 people come here and eat,” Dimos says.
Gus and Dimos treasure getting to know their customers, many of whom come in and eat on a daily basis. Often they sit in the same seats and order the same cuisine.
“We love to see them and appreciate their loyalty,” Dimos says.
Many people frequent Opa for the happy atmosphere. Between the music, the mural and the staff, they feel as if they’ve been transported to another place – namely, Greece. They also appreciate the way the owners make them feel at home.
“I’m here seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Dimos says. “I approach every single table individually to ask if everything is OK and if their food is good. We do this because this is not a franchise operation. It’s a family-owned restaurant and we want our customers to feel like family.”
Though Gus and Dimos work hard, they play hard too. In fact, they participate in a Greek band called New Wave (Neo Kyma, in Greek). Dimos plays piano. Gus sings and plays the bouzouki, a musical instrument similar to a mandolin that’s popular in Greece. Sometimes they play at Opa, but most often they road trip to Chicago where they perform until the wee hours of the morning, then drive home and work the next day.
“We were born and raised around music,” Dimos says. “Greeks know how to party.”
When they aren’t working or jamming, they occasionally take time for some rest and relaxation. For instance, every year they travel to Greece for a month of relaxation – not that Gus sits still much during those trips.
“There’s so much to do there,” he says. Still, taking a breather is good for the soul – especially when you’re inhaling the fresh, Greek air.
“We’re trying to slow down a bit,” Dimos says.
They know so many people that they can’t go out into the community without running into a loyal customer.
“When I see my customers it brightens up my day,” Dimos says. “They make me feel good.”
He likes to return the favor by feeding them.
“We get such pleasure out of seeing an empty plate,” Dimos says. “When I see them sitting back, touching their stomach and sighing, that’s one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.”
Opa is located at 7900 East U.S. Highway 36 in Avon. For more information, call 317-707-7513 or visit opaavonin.com.