Toula Antonopoulos began working at her family’s first sit down restaurant, Epikourion at the age of eleven. Shortly after, her parents, Jimmy and Helen Antonopoulos, founded Jimmy The Greek, which, over 30 years later, is one of Toronto’s most recognizable quick-service Greek restaurants. Today, Toula serves alongside her sister Tina as Vice President of Jimmy the Greek Inc., overseeing all areas of the business. Yet while her start in the family business ultimately led her to running it, the path wasn’t a straight line – you’ll never guess where she started her professional career.
My first job ever was… Being a busser! I was eleven years old and my father had just opened his first restaurant, Epikourion in the First Canadian Place. I would set tables, wash dishes, seat customers and fill water glasses… anything that needed to be done at the time.
Taking over the family business was… Totally not on my radar — I was studied Criminology and Sociology at the University of Toronto and then worked as a probation and parole officer. The restaurant business is very hard and very demanding. Even with my father at the helm and my sister by his side, the growing business needed more support than ever, so I decided to leave my job and join them in running the business, which has been a truly rewarding experience.
My proudest accomplishment is… Raising three awesome children — they are my light and my joy. They are humble, kind, patient and have the best sense of humor. My son Dean was class valedictorian in his graduating class of 2016. He thanked me during his speech, I was so overwhelmed I thought I would faint. I never expected a thank you for being a mom.
My boldest move to date was… Making the move to compostable and biodegradable containers for our food products. While this was the right choice for the environment, it meant a move away from a product that very economical and worked extremely well as an insulator for food. Our main concern is how it would affect our meal prices; however, our customers have continued to be loyal and have supported this integral change.
I surprise people when I tell them… I was a probation and parole officer for 11 years at the Jane and Finch office. People always tell me I don’t look the type.
My best advice to people starting a business is… You must believe in your product and you must be persistent and persevering. Nothing will happen overnight. Building a strong business and brand takes a lot of time and hard work. And don’t ever be greedy.
My best advice from a mentor was… Not to be intimidated by others in higher standing and to always be honest. My father, being my greatest mentor, often reminded me to satisfy all promises made.
“You must believe in your product and you must be persistent and persevering. Nothing will happen overnight.”
To me, leadership means… Being a good role model. You need to listen, be patient, honest and kind. A leader must also walk the talk. A leader shouldn’t say one thing and do another.
My biggest setback was… In the food service business, our constant struggle is to find great suppliers that have exceptional and consistent quality products. In business, our biggest setbacks often come when a trusted supplier can no longer be relied upon to continue to provide this level of product.
I overcame it by… By building great relationships with our suppliers we develop a trust and understanding with them of what standard of product Jimmy the Greek restaurants will accept. When this is not possible we do our research to find the best possible supplier by testing their products, checking references and ensuring their products are produced in certified facilities.
Work/family life balance is… Taking time for myself. I love to take walks and enjoy moments of silence throughout the day; I need quiet to think and not be distracted. I don’t allow the radio to play when driving my kids so I don’t miss an opportunity to share thoughts/information with them.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I don’t eat red meat and I love the smell of cigars.
I stay inspired by… Interacting with customers, suppliers, and franchisees on a regular basis and listening to their comments, suggestions for improvement.
The future excites me because… I have a wonderful family and great friends and I enjoy interacting with all the wonderful people that Jimmy the Greek brings into my life. Our franchisees are an extension of our family. Growing this family and seeing our franchisees thrive is a very exciting part of our business. As our business grows, we are able to share with even more Canadians our famous Greek hospitality, which is truly rewarding.
My next step is… To take one day at a time. Since I lost my mother, I do not take anyone or anything for granted. Each day is a gift. Tomorrow will take care of itself.