Ted Dranias is frequently asked if he’s been tested.
No, not for COVID-19, but for mental acuity.
Dranias understands why. In spite of dire predictions that up to 60 per cent of Canadian restaurants could go belly up because of the pandemic, Dranias just opened his fourth Montreal eatery this week in Little Italy and will be launching a fifth — albeit just a takeout counter — in November.
“My wife thinks I’m nuts,” he says. “Then again, so do most people. What they don’t understand is my huge passion for the restaurant business.
“I started my first restaurant, a hot-dog joint, when I was 19, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s in my blood. When I see a potential location, it gets me all fired up.”
Regardless, making matters seemingly more dicey is that Dranias’s first three Petros tavernas — in Griffintown, the Plateau and Westmount — are all BYOBs. And let’s just say that many restos are able to survive by selling alcohol, particularly when taking up to a 300 per cent markup on wines.
Couple this with strict social distancing rules that have reduced Dranias’s spaces by up to 50 per cent capacity, both inside the restaurants and on the terrasses, and one has to wonder what kind of playbook he’s working from.
“It’s really quite simple. I have zero debt across the board,” explains Dranias, a Park Extension native, who is “35 going on 58” years old.
“I also mark up my prices, about 15 to 18 per cent, to cover for loss of alcohol. But my philosophy is that if you are a good people-skills individual and if you can think a little outside the box, you can probably compensate for losses due to such other factors as social distancing. A lot of people open restaurants and go way over their heads in their spending.”
Dranias’s restaurants specialize in traditional Greek Mediterranean cuisine, with a strong focus on fish.
His fourth spot, Les Jardins Petros on St-Dominique St. in Little Italy, does have a liquor licence.
He has seen the light. Also in the works is a booze permit for his Griffintown resto.
Dranias also attributes his success to another factor: his different business partners at all four locations are in their mid-20s. In his new Little Italy location, Dranias has partnered up with the relatively youthful Maria Gaitanis and Grigorios Gournakis.
“It’s about having skin in the game,” Dranias says. “If you don’t have that, you won’t have partners.”
Nevertheless, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Dranias recently got hit with two tickets — $1,500 in total — at his Westmount location, one for having music outdoors on the terrasse. He hired two bouzouki players to entertain diners.
“What do you think people prefer seeing: For Rent signs outdoors, or a little life on the street?” he says. “Am I supposed to put these guys on a clothesline? My customers loved them. They covered everything from Sweet Caroline to sweet Greek music. I’m contesting the tickets and I’ll bring the guys to Griffintown when I get my liquor permit there.
“With COVID, people are so scared. They want a little diversion when they go out. They want to forget a little.”
Dranias decided to open his fifth spot, the takeout counter located near his Little Italy resto, at the urging of its landlord.
“A dépanneur had been there for nearly 50 years and the landlord offered me a great deal on the rent, just to make sure there wasn’t another vacancy in the city,” he says.
The subject of retail vacancies can drive Dranias over the edge.
“I’ve never seen so many For Rent signs around town. The city is in turmoil. It’s bad everywhere. St-Denis, St-Hubert, among other once-busy streets, are suffering.
But downtown is a nightmare. I’d really have to be nuts to open there.
“The restaurateurs and shop owners are getting killed. And it doesn’t make their situation much better when Ste-Catherine St. is blocked by military-style cement blocks. It’s sickening. At least spruce up the street a little and allow some parking.”
But Dranias would consider investing in at least one project serving the city.
“You’ll never go broke here manufacturing orange cones,” he quips. “But you almost need anti-fluorescent glasses to avoid getting blinded by them.”