From the Navy to a Restaurant, Greek-Style


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The La Belle Province restaurant sign.

A.K. is a Greek Canadian from Montreal, Quebec. Now 50-years old, he has been part-owner of his fast-food restaurant for over 15 years. His work is his passion, and through this he has met all kinds of people and seen all kinds of things. I delve deeper to find more about his past and his particular views on government and law over scotch.

Beginning with his past, A.K. revisits how he got into the business. Initially, it was at 13-years old when he began working in the restaurant business. He saw that it was hard work, and says it was the best way he could "become rich and make money." He worked and owned other restaurants, with the first restaurant he owned turning a profit of nearly four times his investment. However, he wasn't always in the restaurant business.

When asked about his childhood, he says his family life wasn't always happy. He says he came from a "busted-up family" and wanted to change that for when he has one. After high school, he spent three years in the reserves to help him distance himself from his family before deciding to join the Canadian Navy. The navy provided him a good career and hard work, something he has valued since he was young. He trained in Halifax and worked aboard the HMCS Protector.

When I asked about what he did aboard the ship, he explains he was designated to resupply other ships. "We provided medical supplies, food, ammunition to British ships, Canadian, and sometimes American" he explains. Once his ship called in to be refitted (that is stripped and upgraded from head to toe) he stayed on base in St. Jean to train recruits, achieving the rank of Corporal Sergeant. Here is where an unexpected change begins for A.K.

"I had a racial problem with my CO, and one thing led to another, we got into a fight. I was dishonourably discharged from the service and came home," A.K. explains, taking a quick sip of his scotch. He loved the navy and was heart-broken when he was discharged. He spent seven years in the armed forces, and still believes it to be one of his best experiences of his life.

What did he do when he came home? Well, A.K. decided to return to restaurants. "I started a small joint. Cost me around $60 000, sold it two years later for about four times what I put in," he says. He continued working at different restaurants, opening and closing some, until he was given the oppourtunity to own his current restaurant, L.B.

During this time he met his wife and began having a family. "She's a good wife, and she understood what I wanted and what I would do to get it," A.K. says. "I missed out on dear things with my family, and was a part-time parent." He worked hard and often, and continually missed important times in his family's lives.

Did his kids understand why he did what he did? Now in their adolescents, they understand what he was doing. "My kids are good kids, they are o.k. with me not always being there. They understood what I was doing," he explains, twisting and turning the scotch-filled Styrofoam cup in his hand. "I want to do this now so they don't have to later. I want them to have a good education, a good job. I don't want them to do what I did."

His wife and kids still give him gifts he considers "appreciation" gifts and notes. He feels these are their way of showing their understanding and support for him doing what it is he does.

"He is a good man. He's tough as nails -don't let his stomach fool you," his partner F.K. jokes when asked about his opinion of his partner. F.K. has been A.K.'s partner for over 15 years. "When there is something that needs to be done, doesn't matter what he has, he'll do it." They have worked together through everything the restaurant business could throw at them even when the government closed down their business.

When asked about the government closing his business down, he expresses guilt. "Yes, we did take advantage of the system. And yes, we should be punished," A.K. admits. "When you find a loophole, you take it." So after years of using the loophole, they decide to stop in fear there may be backlash. "Here we were taking ten to twenty percent extra profit and others are taking between fifty and sixty. We figured after doing it for so long we should stop and be more legit. We made our money and still were making it." A.K. knew that if they were taking the same amount as other restaurants, they would have been deeper in a mess. After years of abusing the system, they stopped two years before the government came in.

When the government workers came in, they took all the money in their restaurant and closed the doors. It took several hours to get the restaurant up and running again. A.K. was there that day, cursing and swearing them out. It was an experience that he'll never forget, but still doesn't necessarily condemn the government's actions.

Why did the government take his money? "The government needed the money," A.K. jokes. He knew he was taking advantage of the system, and knew it was a matter of time before they would come in and begin seizing their assets. He believes that the government was doing their job.

I asked about laws and government regulations with regards to restaurants, and A.K. as quick to retort. "It's not the government that's the problem. It's the fuckin' politicians. They're the ones who create all the trouble in Quebec for everybody," A.K. exclaims. He is referring to, particularly, the battle between the French and the English. "The English came in years ago and tried to change Quebec into Ontario. Eventually the Frenchmen got fed up and so what you have is what happened in the sixties and seventies. The French wanted to have their own place so they started their Bill 101's and what have you. Now it's the politicians who are trying to buy English votes and French votes."

Does language laws make it harder to run a business? "When I'm working and English clients come in and French clients come in we can't choose between them. As a business we have to adapt and learn how to make everyone happy so we can make money and be happy," A.K. explains. "I speak English, French, Greek, Italian, and Spanish. When you talk to someone in their language that isn't English or French they love you for it and will want to come back. It's all about respect." A.K. does speak all these languages, as his workers, like myself, have seen. He believes that without politicians and lobbyists trying to sway the people into promoting discrimination between language groups, people would get along.

"I've seen the way Englishmen and Frenchmen talk in the line. They get along, try to speak the other language if they don't know it." He says about his business. "I've said jokes or comments in English and people reply in French, and we get along. The people want harmony and live can in harmony."


Barry, your ex-boss seems loaded with political comments! At every question he takes a turn and ends up talking about either language laws, governmental corruption and ethnic clients. However, he does contribute something very noteworthy that surely resonates with many people: "I want to do this now so they don't have to later. I want them to have a good education, a good job. I don't want them to do what I did."

Raw and refreshing interview! Your questions seem to elicit interesting reactions from your interviewee. It can only mean one thing: you're asking the right questions.
Also, I liked the fact that your article took the form of a narrative interview, rather than the typical Q & A style interview.

Cool stuff! I'm impressed that you got an interview about such a risky topic!!! This article gives a nice perspective of local restaurant/business owners.

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