Restaurants are more than a business, says George Skiadas. Admitting they are a way to make a living, Skiadas said after 30 years of owning and operating Famous Bistro he can sum-up what successful restaurants are really about with one word: relationships.
“This is going to be a strange statement, I think. For me, the restaurant business is more than just a business,” he said. “… I don’t even like saying it’s a business. Restaurants are a way of life. They really are a way of life if you’re into it.”
The Bistro has been known by different names during its storied history that began 30 years ago today.
George first opened the doors to the then-Famous Deli in 1993. He said the only downtown businesses were the Apex just a few doors down, Peachtree Antiques, and Colby’s Diner. He joked that seeing a piece of paper rolling like a tumbleweed was usual for the “ghost town” area.
George said he wasn’t a morning person, but the deli was only open for breakfast and lunch. Eventually, they switched to lunch and dinner.
Though the community welcomed the restaurant from the beginning, switching to the Famous Bistro format enabled George to connect with people in ways he hadn’t previously.
As guests came in over time, they would chat about life and tell jokes over food. Conversations began to go beyond basic pleasantries, and truly deep bonds forged between George and his customers.
“I try to teach people how intimate an act it is we perform. It’s an intimate act because you’re preparing food, and this food is going into that person’s body. So I find that to be intimate and it’s something you want to be responsible about,” George said.
While connecting with customers and keeping them happy are key, George said having positive relationships with the staff is also vital to success.
Some of the employees have been with the deli/bistro for more than 20 years.
Ben Skiadas, who followed his dad George’s footsteps into the food industry, noted that turnover in the restaurant industry is extremely high, so having the staff members for two decades is a rarity.
“These families of these people that we work with, you hear the corny ‘oh, we’re family.’ But you start to get to know their families, kids, wives, husbands, and you get to know all these people and the dogs. Pop has put together this culture,” Ben said.
And family has always come first for George throughout the years.
George grew up in the food business through his dad, who worked in a few New Jersey diners before finally owning his own.
After a stint in the Army in the early 1960s, George found his way to Owensboro in 1965 to attend Kentucky Wesleyan College. Leaving KWC before completing his degree, he found himself in a variety of jobs back in New Jersey before rediscovering the food business with two of his uncles.
Wanting his own place, George opened a small shop, Famous Pizza, in Pennsylvania. He then opened two more thriving restaurants in the Philadelphia area.
Despite running successful businesses, George decided to return to KWC to finish his college degree. That’s where he met Nancy, who he later married. The two decided to put down permanent roots in Owensboro.
With the desire to run a restaurant still in his heart, George eventually opened the deli.
Ben got involved with the restaurant at only 10 years old. Through the years, he moved up from folding boxes and bussing tables to having a hand in the kitchen. By the time he graduated college, the business had become such a part of him that he wanted to stay.
Through his experience and support from George, Ben was eventually able to open his own restaurant, Lure Seafood and Grille.
“I think I’ve been blessed with a good teacher. Bistro is such a huge part of my life growing up and continues to be,” Ben said.
Both said they’ve been fortunate to always have the support of the community along the way.
“This community has helped us exist and truly without the community buying into George’s, The Greek Deli, The Famous Deli, Famous Bistro, Bistro, whatever people have called this place over the 30 years. Without those involvements, we’re nothing,” Ben said.
To show their appreciation, for the entire month of June the Bistro is donating 5% of all alcohol sales to Goodfellows, Impact100 and Beverly’s Hearty Slice.