Forty years ago, Mike Loukopolous was a young guy running a restaurant on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg.
That’s when he got the call from Jim Zachropoulos, his friend and business partner, to come out west.
“He phoned me up and said he was going to Revelstoke or Trail because the dams were going in,” Loukopolous told me. “I said don’t go to Trail, stay on the Trans-Canada.
“He listened to me.”
The advice was fortuitous. 40 years later, Zala’s, the restaurant they started, is still going strong. It’s one of Revelstoke’s oldest active restaurants. Considering an estimated 60 per cent of restaurants fail within three years, that’s quite the achievement.
Zala’s is named after its two original owners, Zachrapolous (Za) and Gordie Landers (La), who owned the building, which used to home to the bus depot.
Loukopolous moved to Revelstoke to help his friend get the Revelstoke open. With construction on the Revelstoke Dam about to start, they knew a boom was coming to the town. They opened on Boxing Day, Dec. 26, 1976.
From the start, they settled on pizza and steak as the restaurant’s mainstay items. It proved to be a stable combination.
“It hasn’t changed much that way,” Loukopolous said.
Loukopolous wasn’t an owner at that point, so he went and bought the neighbouring gas station and turned it into the Burger Junction; it’s still operating today as the Nomad.
In 1979, Loukopolous sold the Burger Junction to buy a share in Zala’s. The restaurant was busy and stayed open until 3 a.m. to cater to the late-night crowd.
“People would leave the bar, drive down and have a pizza and go home,” said Loukopolous. “You can’t do that anymore.”
1980 was a big year for the restaurant. They bought the television store next door and expanded the restaurant. More importantly, they also hired a server named Janice Gould who was in town living with relatives. Three years later, she and Loukopolous got married and a year after that their son Dean was born. All three are now partners in the restaurant, along with Janice’s brother Rick Gould.
In 1984, Zachropoulos was bought out and he moved to Nanaimo to open another Zala’s, which is now closed. In 1987, Mike and Janice became the sole owners of the restaurant. Mike managed the kitchen while Janice took care of the front. They purchased the building from Landers in the early 90s.
Business boomed during the dam years, and after they relied on locals and summer tourist traffic. “We always looked after locals,” said Janice.
In the late 90s, snowmobilers discovered Revelstoke and by extension, Zala’s. “I’m a snowmobiler myself,” said Mike. “I was involved with the club quite a bit and we made it a hangout place for the snowmobilers. We got to know all the people coming into town, and they still are.”
A major renovation took place in the early 2000s, giving Zala’s the look it enjoys today.
Dean started working at the restaurant as a teenager, washing dishes, cooking pizzas and doing deliveries, but it wasn’t until he turned 30 that he decided to take on the family business. “It was always a struggle of wanting to be here and running away and being scared of it,” he said.
Two years ago, he became a partner in the restaurant. With Mike and Janice retired, Dean manages the front while Rick runs the kitchen.
Rick said a key to their success is they treat all their staff and guests like family.
“You have to love what you do and do what you love,” added Janice.
The food at Zala’s hasn’t changed substantially over the years. They’ve kept up with changing tastes by adding more healthy options, but the staples of steak and pizza have remained.
“I always think we’re going to evolve. We’re not going to drastically change anything, but we do need to evolve with the times,” said Dean. “Keep the roots of what’s made Zala’s great to begin with and got us through 40 years.”
Zala’s turns 40 on December 26. To celebrate their customers, they’re giving away a 55″ Samsung TV. Head on down to get your name in the draw.