NEW YORK – Dostoyevsky said “beauty will save the world,” but nobody really knows what he meant. Listening to dynamic young businesspersons like Euripides Pelekanos CEO of the Bareburger Group LLC on both sides of the Atlantic, however, gives hope that entrepreneurship who will save Greece and Cyprus.
Pelekanos was the featured speaker at an event hosted by the Hellenic American Bankers Association (HABA) and the Midtown headquarters of Marsh USA Inc. on December 4. Costas Kellas, HABA’s president, welcomed the guest to the group’s 7th event of the year
Kellas introduced Pelekanos, whose Bareburger restaurants that feature delicious organic entrees and excellent service now number 22 and will be joined by 14 more in 2015.
Born in the Bronx, he lived and worked in Astoria his whole life and marinated his interest in business – his entrepreneurial energy began to bubble in childhood – with a liberal arts major at Baruch College. “Sometime he wishes he was still at school and is upset he doesn’t have more time to read,” Kellas said.
There were moments when Pelekanos sounded like an evangelist as he told the story of Bareburger’s birth five years ago based on his faith in his vision and the people who followed his lead. “He enjoys happy people, success stories and watching people succeed,” and realizing their potential, Kellas added.
Like that of many Cypriots, the story of the Pelekanos family is a mix of triumph and tragedy.
Pelekanos received lots of business genes from his grandfather, who along with his five brothers amassed wealth as an immigrant in America, owning about 30 florists in the 1940s. He returned to his homeland in 1961 to establish an empire of hotels, fruit groves and restaurants …in the North, in the Kyrenia region…only to see it all fall to the Turks in 1974.
Returning to America the grandfather worked for others in the Greek food distribution industry and raised his children in modest railroad flats in Astoria.
Perhaps that is what motivated Pelekanos to make his life about more than just the money. After noting that he himself was flipping burgers in Astoria only five years ago, he said “We take care of our people,” giving substantial salaries to his employees, and sometimes lending money to franchise owners whose character and commitment he respected.
Seeking a commercial vehicle for his energy and imagination he opened a nightclub in Brooklyn, where he first began to feature organic burgers.
When Pelekanos realized New Yorkers would be a path to places serving “a healthier, more delicious burger” he and his partners, including his older brother, opened the first store at 33-21 31st Avenue.
The second was established in Manhattan and having developed their franchise mode, Pelekanos began reaching out to people he knew to become franchisees.
The company is in transition now from what he called a mom and pop operation to a corporate structure that preserves the spirit and enthusiasm he established. Franchising has worked well – the single owner outlets are the best – but he prefers to owning restaurants, like the six he currently owns, in order guarantee quality and his vision.
Like his chef’s creations, Pelekanos’ personality expresses a number of flavors, including boldness and humility. “I have to thank the executive chefs and marketers for making me look really good.”
He said he’s not sure exactly what his contribution is given his talented colleagues efforts, but he spends days “putting out fires and figuring out how to keep it all going and the brand strong…and not forgetting where we came from” – as if strategy and integrity were not the essence of the world’s great brands.
Bareburger is already in Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, Toronto and they are working on places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi – he loves the challenge of translating the concept into foreign cultures and he know his talented team is up to it.
As usual, the guests from many fields, not just the business world, made for a crackling Q & A session. People were interested in the Bareburger name
Earlier Pelekanos told of brainstorming in a bar in Brooklyn that had a radical left atmosphere where he saw a Soviet-era poster of a dancing bear. Someone suggested putting the bear on a unicycle and his wife later suggested the “bareburger” spelling.
Kellas presented an overview of HABA, emphasizing that in addition to quality lectures by public and private sector leaders on business and economics, and social events the organization, “our priorities are our members, but we also support non-profit organizations and we are actively involved in creating jobs in Greece and Cyprus and local community initiatives.”
Also present were Apostolos Digbassanis of the Greek Trade Office and Nancy Papaioannou, president of Atlantic Bank and the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce.