I Am Joplin: George Michalopoulos

Noble columns and graceful stone statues resembling ancient Greek deities create elegant touches to the exterior of this building. Its appearance is unexpected – an oasis of stateliness in a sea of homogeneous commercial buildings.

 

george mythos 1

 

But while it may look like a palace, to one Joplin man, it’s simply home.

 

This home is Mythos, and its owner is George Michalopoulos, a man with boundless energy who spends the majority of his day at this restaurant. While he does have an actual house, along with a wife and two children, to go to at the end of the day, his passion for – and dedication to – his business has expanded his clan, creating a family of employees and customers who find comfort, celebration, and community within the walls of Mythos.

 

George-in-Training

Being a restaurateur is a far cry from George’s youthful dream of being an anesthesiologist, but the restaurant business is in his blood. His parents, Andrew and Vickie Michalopoulos, came from Greece to Missouri in the 1970s, and opened up restaurants. Eventually, they branched out into the full-service hotel industry and purchased the Ramada Inn (now LaQuinta Inn) in Joplin, where George oversaw the restaurant, bar, and guest rooms.

 

When it came time for George’s parents to sell the hotel, he had to figure out what he wanted to do next. With anesthesiology now off the table, he decided to honor his roots and his genuine enthusiasm for the restaurant industry by opening his own establishment. I know I’m not alone when I say that I’m extremely glad that he did.

 

George the Restaurateur

George opened Mythos in 2004 with the help of his wife Jaime, who also hails from a family of restaurateurs. But while everyone else in George’s family had operated steak houses and buffet restaurants, George and Jaime wanted to do something different, something upscale. Something Greek.

 

Over the years, the menu has evolved. Although it remains Greek-influenced with items like the Tour of Mythos (a sample platter of traditional Greek food including gyro meat, pita slices, and spanakopita – which is one of my favorite dishes here), the menu also includes other fare such as steaks (like the Blackberry Filet) and seafood (like the Vermouth Bass). “Joplin’s food tastes are growing,” says George. “The younger generation is seeing a lot more (TV) food shows and getting a lot more of a food education, which is allowing us to mature a lot more quickly than we used to.”

 

Plus, Mythos was using fresh ingredients before using locally sourced ingredients became trendy. “That’s a lot of the Mediterranean culture,” says George. “It was instilled in us as kids that you go to the garden to grab something fresh and it tastes so much better.”

 

george m

George at home, a.k.a. Mythos.

 

The scrumptious meals at Mythos are prepared by Chef Eugene Deal, who gets a special helper in the kitchen on Mondays. That’s when George dons his chef uniform and gets cooking. “It’s good for me to be in the kitchen because the employees see that, ‘Hey, this guy knows what he’s doing,’” says George. “I put orders in with them, I prep with them, I coach them, and I train them.” George believes that his presence in the kitchen has had a positive impact on the employee turnover rate at Mythos, which is low – a unique trait in the fickle restaurant industry. “I think it’s the fact that I’m in here working with them side-by-side, facing the same struggles that they face,” says George. “We’re problem-solving together.”

 

With his hands-on approach to managing the restaurant, it’s no surprise that he’s thrived as the sole owner/operator, despite the fact that he was only 30 when Mythos opened. Add in his incomparable customer recognition skills, which have earned the respect – and business – from customers over the years, and you have a solid recipe for success. He even recognizes people who come in once every year or two, much to their amazement. “I want to make sure that guests are happy and leave better than how they came in,” says George. “I try to make them feel at home.”

 

 

george mythos statue front

 

Practicing the Greek-influenced style of dining is another way that George and his employees make people feel at home at Mythos. “It’s not rushed. It’s very family-oriented. It’s sitting down. It’s talking. It’s enjoying. It’s not getting people in and out in 30 to 40 minutes, then getting the next table in.” While the servers do pick up the pace for the time-crunched lunch crowd, at dinner they move at the pace of the customers.

 

How was this leisurely European dining pace initially received by Joplin diners? “The first couple of years were an adjustment,” George admits. “Now people understand it. We had a table here last week with a 3:30 pm reservation and they were still here at 7 pm.”

 

George the Inventor

When George isn’t cooking or visiting with customers, he’s creating products and systems which make his business – and others in the industry – run more efficiently. Have you ever heard of the Dump Commander? (Go ahead and giggle like a 5th grader at the name – I did). Although it sounds funny, this product has had a serious impact on employees in the restaurant industry, winning the 2016 Kitchen Innovation Award at the National Restaurant Association.

 

What is the Dump Commander? George describes his invention as “a rechargeable unit that you take out to the dumpster, and instead of having to lift trash up over your head, you just hit a button and it dumps it for you.” You can read more about the Dump Commander here.

 

George the Dad

Being an inventor and restaurateur means long hours at Mythos, so George’s friends and family know that, in order to maximize their chances of seeing him, they should stop by the restaurant. Except in summer – that’s when Mythos closes for two weeks so that George can “devote 100%, 24/7” to his kids Andreas, 18, and Jasmine, 16, along with his wife Jaime.

 

George the Joplinite

After working in Joplin for more than two decades, George has come to appreciate living in this town, both for its “relaxed, lower pressure” lifestyle and for its family-friendly environment. “I like the fact that we know a lot of people even though it’s a fairly large-sized town.”

 

So where in Joplin does George take out-of-town visitors when they come to see him (besides Mythos, of course)? “I take our guests to a lot of the local restaurants,” says George. “When I worked in the hotel business, we would always direct guests to local restaurants because you can get a franchise anywhere in the country, but you pick the places that they don’t have in their hometowns and their cities. That way, they can experience something different and unique.”

 

George has been successful offering something different and unique at Mythos, and he does so with inexhaustible enthusiasm. “The time at the restaurant for me does not drag on,” says George. “I spend 12 to 16 hours a day here and I don’t feel like I’ve been here that long.” To George, Mythos isn’t just a workplace: “This is my home.”

 

Mythos is located at 1306 South Range Line Road. To visit its website here; to follow it on Facebook, click here; and if you’d like to read about my experience at Mythos, click here.

 

To read about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Mythos

Opa!

 

Hearing that word reminds me of countless birthdays, holidays, and other life events that I’ve celebrated through the years.

 

Is it because I’m Greek?

 

No.

 

(Well, maybe? My maiden name is Sempetrean and we’re still unsure of its origins…)

 

But I digress.

 

I associate opa! with celebration because when there’s a special occasion to share with our family and friends, a meal at Joplin’s Mythos restaurant is usually part of the festivities.

 

And at Mythos, hearing opa! is part of the experience.

 

This tiny Greek word, heard at weddings and other celebrations in Greece (as well as in Greek restaurants in our country), is packed with enthusiasm and joy.

 

Just try saying it right now.

 

Opa!

 

I bet you’re smiling, right?

 

That’s the same feeling I have whenever I dine at Mythos.

 

mythos date nightDate Night = Opa!

 
The last time I was there, my husband Travis and I were celebrating Date Night (a two-hour break from parental duties is a BIG deal!).

 

Once inside, I was immediately transfixed by the cool light – as blue as the Aegean sea – emanating from the sleek bar located in the front of the restaurant. The bar’s modern sophistication offers an interesting contrast to the warm, classic Mediterranean decor of the main dining room and the banquet area.

 

mythos bar

Stately columns and graceful arches suggest an air of formality, but the welcoming tables with solid wooden chairs say, “Gather your friends and family to relax, enjoy, and celebrate!”

 

mythos table

Mythos’ welcoming atmosphere is a natural extension of the gregarious personality of its owner, George Michalopoulos.

 

With boundless energy and smiling eyes, George is a familiar presence in the dining room, talking to his guests and making them feel as welcome as family.

 

However, George happened to be overseeing an off-site holiday party when we arrived on our Date Night (yes, Mythos caters!), so our server guided us through the extensive menu.

 

Did we want something bold and zesty? Then we could choose Mediterranean-style dishes (including the traditional Greek ones passed down from George’s family recipes).

 

How about something milder? Entrees like the Walnut Chicken would satisfy us.

 

Did we follow a gluten-free diet? Then we could enjoy the Mango Salmon or one of the tender steaks.

 

Tough decisions.

 

We decided to start with the popular Spicy Feta Dip for an appetizer. Served with warm pita chips, the tangy feta cheese mixture punctuated (!!!) with bits of pepperoncini definitely awakened my taste buds.

 

mythos feta

The other appetizer we ordered was the Kasseri Saganaki (God, bless you!). Pan seared in olive oil, then finished with a squeeze of lemon, this aged Greek cheese arrived on a tray next to our table.

 

And then the show began.

 

Our server poured a touch of brandy on top of the cheese, then set it aflame while exclaiming – here it comes – opa!

 

People at another table ordered the same thing, and Travis snapped a photo.

 

mythos flamesThat poor woman looks somewhat concerned by the flames at her table…

 
Although I didn’t order it on Date Night, one of my favorite appetizers on the menu is the Tour of Mythos. This platter of Greek loveliness contains savory pita meat, spanikopita (phyllo dough filled with spinach and feta), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), an assortment of olives, and more.

 

The Tour of Mythos comes with shots of ouzo, an aqua-colored Greek liquor that takes a bit like black licorice. When you drink it, it’s customary to exclaim – you got it – opa!

 

Our entrees came with a choice of soup or salad. Travis chose the Clam Chowder (he’s been on a quest to find a good clam chowder ever since living in the Northeast), and was pleased with his choice. I chose the special salad of the day: the Wedge (not a Mediterranean dish but I have a weakness for wedges).

 

mythos salad

See my knife in the photo? I started to dive into the salad before Travis could take a photo.

 

Seriously, if you saw those crisp greens topped with chopped hardboiled eggs, slices of fresh tomatoes, and bits of smokey bacon bathing in a creamy homemade blue cheese dressing in front of you, you’d be impatient, too.

 

For my entree, I traveled back to Greece with the Mythos Pickilia, a hearty sampler platter with fragrant aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg. First, I tasted the moussaka, a casserole made with layers of thinly-sliced eggplant, spiced meat (that’s where the cinnamon and nutmeg came in), and a creamy bechamel sauce.

 

mythos greekThis photo is blurry because I was moving the plate. Impatient, again!

 
Next, I sampled the pistichio (like a Greek lasagna), which is similar to the moussaka except that pasta noodles are used in place of eggplant, and when the dish is baked the noodles blend with the bechamel sauce to form a custard-like top.

 

I love how these two traditional Greek dishes (from George’s family’s recipes, in fact) combined savory flavors and sweet aromas. Unique and comforting, they’re unlike anything you’ll taste in Joplin.

 

Also on my mega-platter were several slices of tender gyro meat topped with tangy feta (like the meat in the Tour of Mythos). Even though I was stuffed at this point, my plate still weighed about five pounds! I decided to take the rest home and enjoy another Greek feast the next day.

 

Meanwhile, Travis was in heaven enjoying every last bite of his entree, a special that night which combined a beef filet and a lobster tail.

 

mythos lobster steak

When our waiter had assured us that Mythos serves some of the best steaks in town, he wasn’t kidding; Travis’ hand-trimmed black angus steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender.

 

A succulent lobster tail, a sizable baked potato, and a medley of fresh seasonal vegetables rounded out his dish.

 

Full and content (and too tired to talk), we leaned back in our chairs and looked around the dining room.

 

One couple was sharing an intimate meal in one of the cozy alcoves, a jovial family (with members young and old) was seated around an enormous round table, and a large group of friends at the table behind us gathered together for a surprise birthday party.

 

Could Date Night get any merrier?

 

Why, yes, it could. Just add some dessert, like the Deconstructed Tiramisu.

 

The what?

 

mythos tiramisu

The Mythos version of tiramisu breaks down the components of this layered Italian dessert; sweet mocha-flavored marscapone is whipped on top of a rich chocolate cup, with a crisp lady finger leaning against it, instead of on the bottom like in the traditional version (which makes it soggy).

 

So, at Mythos I was able to enjoy the coffee/chocolate flavors that I crave without having to endure biting into soggy lady fingers. Brilliant and delicious!

 

Someone came to our table just then, and asked if we had enjoyed our meal. At first, I was somewhat disappointed to be distracted from my tiramisu nirvana, but then I realized that it was GEORGE! Yes, this jovial man standing at our table was, in fact, the reason why we were able to enjoy an edible Greek vacation without leaving Joplin.

 

Thanks, George, for bringing opa! to JOMO.

 

 

 

Mythos is located at 1306 South Range Line Road. See Mythos on Facebook, too.

 

*Photos by Travis Smith.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.