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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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