By Sean Moon
For Obsidian Group’s Peter Karamountzos, success in the foodservice business has been based on a combination of finding the right people, providing outstanding service and creating great value for the customer, all built on a solid foundation of strong family ties.
As vice-president of Obsidian Group, Karamountzos oversees operations for the company’s Ontario-based restaurant brands that include Crabby Joe’s, Coffee Culture, Chuck’s Roadhouse and Union Burger. He says it was only natural that he would have a career in the foodservice industry after the hands-on experience he had while working for his father as a teenager.
“My father launched Crabby Joe’s when my brother and I were both teens so we were always involved in the business working part-time. While I was at university, my father asked both of us to make a decision on whether we wanted to pursue a career outside the restaurant industry or commit full-time to the family business. We both started as assistant managers and gradually learned what was involved in running a successful restaurant. It is that foundation that guides us today.”
With over 100 restaurants now under the Obsidian Group umbrella, Karamountzos says the company has developed distinctive qualities for each concept, all underpinned by a commitment to quality and a friendly environment.
“For each concept we are asking ourselves how we can make the experience special for our customers. At Coffee Culture, for example, we are looking to provide a European-style feel, with pleasant surroundings and clever menu items. Chuck’s is a price-driven concept harking back to quality food and the traditional roadhouse feel.”
Karamountzos says a large part of the company’s success is derived from its ability to create the right atmosphere at each of its restaurants.
“That includes the layout of the restaurant, the TVs on the right channels, the music at the appropriate volume and, most importantly, making the customers feel comfortable. To sum up, every staff member needs to have done all the necessary preparation to make it a pleasurable experience for all their customers.”
For all of the complexities and challenges of the restaurant business, Karamountzos has managed to keep a simple philosophy and believes that owning a restaurant is actually being a part of the entertainment business.
“I think you need to keep reminding yourself to always try to provide quality food at reasonable and value price points, in a fun and entertaining environment. Every day you are evaluated on the service you provide that day. Every customer is crucial to your success and you have to make sure you are always giving 100 per cent.”
Karamountzos says his inspiration and daily motivation comes from not only his own passion for the industry but from the company’s many franchisees as well.
“We have franchisees who have made a large financial commitment to us. We owe it to them to offer the best possible support system and guidance to help them fulfill their dreams. For me, there is nothing better than someone succeeding because of the opportunity that was created. Also, supporting and giving back to the communities is important to the Obsidian Group. I just love the restaurant business. There is never a dull day, and almost all the challenges can be overcome.”
Keeping an eye on costs
Some of the biggest challenges, says Karamountzos, include recruiting and training the best staff, keeping a rein on overhead and managing food costs.
“Finding the right people, especially at the back of the house and retaining them, is a challenge that everyone in the industry struggles with. Also, you cannot ignore rising occupancy costs and increasing product prices. An owner is always dealing with tight margins and there is a point where rising costs cannot be passed on to the consumer. We are always looking to find the right balance of menu and price that can be supported by the consumer. And these days the competition is fierce.”
It should come as no surprise that family has also played a major role for Karamountzos in not only getting involved in the restaurant industry as a young man, but also in staying involved.
“Family is very important to me. I am indebted to my parents for the opportunity they gave me to help my own family. My children are young but I would love to take them to Greece to see the village my father grew up in. Apart from family and work, it is sports. I remain an optimist, and I can’t wait for the day the Leafs reach the Stanley Cup Final!”
The future is bright
As for the future of the Obsidian Group, Karamountzos is equally optimistic, with goals that include hitting the impressive 200-unit mark for the company. But in looking back at both his and the company’s past accomplishments, Karamountzos is grateful to be a part of an industry that can impact so many peoples’ lives.
“It is very rewarding to see people coming into a restaurant, that your team helped develop, and having a fun and entertaining experience. I love that every day is different with new, and unexpected challenges, but great opportunities for people to enjoy their experience.”
Sean Moon is the managing editor of Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News.