By Deborah Bostock-Kelley
Imagine a blend of beef and lamb, rotating on a spit, succulent juices flowing down the side of meat, shaved off for each order. The most popular Gyro with meat nestled in a fluffy grilled pita with onions, tomato, and fresh Tzatziki sauce can be complemented by a fresh Greek salad with crispy lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, pepperoncini, olives, beets, Feta cheese, slightly Americanized with a hearty dollop of Greek potato salad in the center. The chargrilled Chicken Souvlaki skewers perched atop a plate of rice shares the stage with a side Greek salad or a delicious cup of Avegolemono Soup filled with chicken, lemon, and rice and, of course, the warm homemade pita bread. The bowls offer a choice of Veggie, Greek, Tabouli, and Fajita, all with a base of brown rice and beans, and guests can add grilled chicken, Gyro, Falafel, grilled shrimp, or salmon to their order.
Eighteen years ago, George Constantinou’s father and uncle had a vision for this “Mom and Pop-style” Greek restaurant using recipes handed down from their parents. They would use only quality, freshly-made, healthy ingredients served quickly. This would be an entirely new take on what was considered fast food. Still, the pair was busy already running busy restaurants, so the concept was given to another restauranteur who did not successfully implement their vision. At the time, George was in college at USF, getting ready to graduate with his Management Marketing degree.
Fresh from graduating, George decided he wanted to try his hand at re-establishing his father and uncle’s concept under his leadership.
The first family-owned and operation location opened in 2006, with the father and son team, Dino and George, at its helm. They boasted only the freshest scratch-made Greek food served fast at their brainchild, Hungry Greek.
“I’ll never forget it. We opened the doors up in Westchase, and the amount of support we received from the community was amazing. In 2008, we opened Wesley Chapel and the same thing. We opened when Bruce B Downs was cows, and two lanes, and I thought if we can make it with the cows around us, we can make it anywhere.”
And make it anywhere they did.
“I was born and raised in the restaurant business, and I always wanted to be able to offer a fresh meal, quality, and a nice quantity for a very fair price. When the community is feeling pain, we feel it with them, but we make sure we do everything we can to help them out. Everything has gone up with inflation, but our prices have not.”
With a wide variety of meal options that appeal to carnivores, vegans, vegetarians, and those following a gluten-free diet, George is confident that customers won’t leave hungry after enjoying a meal at Hungry Greek.
“The worst part is going someplace and leaving still hungry,” he said. “When you come to our restaurant, you’re averaging $10 a meal and leaving with a (takeout) box.”
Nothing comes from a boxed mix at Hungry Greek. The stuffed grape leaves don’t come from a can. They are filled by hand, Ya-Ya (grandma) style and baked, hummus blended to perfection, chicken marinade, and all sauces and dressings are made from scratch daily.
If you still have room after a meal, the restaurant partners with a local Tarpon Springs bakery to provide baklava, cannolis, rice pudding, and other sweets.
“There’s no chicken that’s cooked in the microwave. Everything is cooked to order and made from scratch. You can taste the difference. I believe our product speaks for itself,” he said. “Even during the pandemic, we ensured everyone could still enjoy an affordable meal safely. Our main thing is our fresh ingredients, the quality of our food, and the cleanliness that we spend a lot of time on, and growing in the community supporting local businesses.”
George takes pride in giving back to the community and supporting the local schools, fairs, food drives, and first responders.
“We’re very involved in the community, and we like to give back as we can.”
Now 15 years later and with ten franchise locations in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, with plans to add more, George says that customers have never lacked quality and taste despite the quick speed of service.
“We won’t lose our focus on the quality of food. We won’t play the numbers game like let’s cut our cost by using a low-quality spice or low-quality chicken or meat. We believe in not cutting down the cost, keeping the quality, keeping the customer satisfied, and the customers’ notice. Yes, we have to make bills, but we are known for being a good quality, fresh-ingredients place. You can’t take shortcuts. All of us – myself, my father, our franchisees –are owner-operators. We are there. I’m still behind the grill. I’m still cooking.”
The Odessa location on Starkey Road opened in February 2021 and has been popular among locals and visitors alike who value flavor and value.
“I enjoy waking up in the morning and going to work and doing this and serving people, too. I enjoy seeing our customers sit down and eat our food and nod their heads, like ‘it’s good.’ To me, it’s still a great experience satisfying someone’s hunger.”
Hungry Greek Odessa is located at 12319 FL-54. To check on the menu or see their other locations, visit https://thehungrygreek.com.