A Life Devoted to Restaurateurs in Chicago

Posted by at 10 March, at 10 : 35 AM Print


Interview with P.S. Makrias

We recently contacted our old friend Stanley Greanias, a veteran, high-level executive whose career was spent in the center of the food industry in Chicago. Stan responded eagerly, and his interview follows. He participated in the first-ever convention of restaurant owners organized by this magazine in 1994 in Atlantic City with members of the board of GARA, the cooperative of restaurant owners in Chicago. A few years later, Stan presided over a meeting in Chicago with Estiator’s publisher and heads of the Greek food industry in order to organize a convention of restaurateurs in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Mr. Greanias was directly involved in the early efforts by Greek restaurant operators to help support the creation of a National Hellenic Museum and the possible creation of a future permanent exhibit on the role of Greeks in the foodservice industry.


For many years, you were at the center of the food industry in the Chicago area as a CEO of Superior Coffee and later as a Corporate VP for Sara Lee. Can you tell us what kind of relationship you developed with Greek-American restaurateurs and what percentage of Greek-owned establishments in the tri-state area were buying from Superior Coffee?

My relationship with the Greek-American restaurateurs began immediately from my first day as President & CEO of Superior Coffee back in 1985. I can still remember receiving over a dozen congratulatory phone calls from many of our Greek-American customers, all of them offering me their help and support. I was a “hands on,” outon-the-street CEO and would commit at least several days a month visiting and getting to many of our Midwest Greek-American customers.These relationships resulted in Superior Coffee becoming extremely committed and supportive to help create and build the Greek American Restaurant Association, with Superior Coffee being one of the first Founding Vendor Partners in 1986. Later on, Superior Coffee continued its support of the Greek restaurant community by also becoming a founding partner of The United Purchasing Cooperative. These partnerships were invaluable to Superior Coffee’s growth during the late ’80s and early ’90s. I would estimate that in 1985 Superior Coffee had about a 20 percent share of the tristate Greek-American restaurant coffee business. By 1992, with support of GARA and UPC plus the acquisition of the Zees and Imperial Coffee companies, our market share had grown to well over 70%.

In this issue, we designate 2019 as the year of the gyro. What are your thoughts on the future of this product?

I have to agree that 2019 will be the year of the gyro—not just because of the Arby’s sandwich chain’s 2018 major promotion of the gyro, but also as important has been the introduction of the “Off the Cone” slices. This major product innovation, led by Grecian Delight and Kronos companies, now allows many more restaurateurs to offer gyro meats for sandwiches, entrees and salad protein without requiring them to use the traditional Auto Donor Rotisserie. Today’s consumer is constantly looking for more ethnic and bold favors, and the gyro helps satisfy those desires.

If chains like Arby’s introduce gyros, could existing companies be able to satisfy demand?

Among the 5 or 6 leading manufacturers of the gyro product, I am quite sure there is ample production capacity and the ability to scale up to meet the new demand.

For a few years you served with Grecian Delight Foods. What were your experiences with the gyro industry?

It was and still is a highly competitive industry, everyone battling for customers and market share. Always felt consumers never appreciated the value of gyros sandwich versus the hot dog.

We understand that after your departure from Superior Coffee, one of the biggest coffee companies of its kind nationally, it went out of business. What were the reasons?

Superior Coffee did not go out of business, but was part of the decision to break up and sell off entire Sara Lee Corporation back in 2009. Superior Coffee was sold to Farmer Brothers Coffee company. The Superior Brand is still marketed throughout the USA.

You also served as CEO of GARA and you initiated a reorganization, succeeding in closing better contracts with suppliers and manufacturers. Would you like to elaborate on your experience with this purchasing group?

Actually, as a result of my long-term relationship GARA dating back to its creation in 1986, I was asked in late 2008 by Tom Diamond, GARA Chairman, and the GARA Board if I would help them find a way to transition GARA from a non-profit philanthropic organization into a for-profit cooperative that would enable its members to receive greater off-invoice pricing and to share in vendor rebates while still continuing to support the Chicago-area Greek community. With the assistance of excellent legal and accounting advice, we quickly realized by creating and incorporating a completely separate entity GARC (Greek-American Restaurant Cooperative) we could achieve both objectives. I then agreed to become President & CEO of GARC at start of 2009. Since then, GARC has enjoyed tremendous growth and much success, and GARA continues to annually donate thousands of dollars to support and aid the needs of many Greek causes and individuals.

At one point you participated in talks in New Jersey for cooperating with the other four Pan Gregorian entities and the Florida group, but no agreement was achieved. What were the basic reasons?

At the time, I know the biggest drawback for us (GARC) was we were just getting started and we needed to first build our own organization before thinking about creating something on a more national level. For the other organizations, they were far more established and had some longtime individual vendor relationships that made it difficult to select one national vendor or distributor over some others. Also, most of those organizations had already negotiated some extremely attractive vendor programs, so I’m not sure there was much more that could be gained.

Estiator supported your initiative about 20 years ago for the creation of a restaurant museum in association with the Greek museum in Chicago. This effort did not materialize. Should the efforts continue?

Actually, the effort did materialize and our early fund-raising helped keep the vision of a Greek museum going. GARA has since been a major sponsor of the museum, donating $500,000. The main lobby is dedicated to the Greek-American Restaurant Association.

What about the collection of old menus and other memorabilia that were in the original plans?

Not sure what happened to the various memorabilia. I assume the museum still has it.

Many new Greek restaurants and fast-food places are opening all over the country. Would you like to comment on the effect they might have on the local food manufacturers (like Grecian Delights, etc.) and Greek imports?

A simple comment: Because most of, not all, our local manufacturers have  national distribution, they will surely benefit with the growth of new Greek restaurants and other foodservice outlets.

Stanley L Greanias is retired Vice President of Sara Lee corporation and Chief Executive Officer of Sara Lee Coffee & Tea, where he provided 25 years of service. Greanias began his career in 1969 in management development programs with Johnson & Johnson. He joined Superior Coffee in 1978 as a manager and was promoted to Director of Eastern Operations in 1980, while holding positions of increasing responsibility before being named President and Chief Executive Officer of Superior Coffee in 1985. In 1990, Greanias assumed additional responsibility as Group President for all of Sara Lee Coffee’s North American operations.

In addition, Greanias has served as Chairman of the National Coffee Association from 1992-1994 and President of the Chicago Special Olympics, 1991-1994. In 1999, he was elected Vice President of Sara Lee corporation and served in that capacity until 2004. Since that time, Greanias has served as President and CEO Grecian Delight Foods and President and CEO of the Javo Beverage company.

He was also appointed President and CEO of the Greek-American Restaurant Cooperative, an organization made up of over one thousand independently own restaurants in the Chicago Metropolitan area.

Greanias continues to serve on the Boards of Grecian Delight Foods and Javo Beverage company.


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