Lee Vassiliadis didn’t have a normal childhood.
At the age of nine, the Victoria resident spent his days going to school first thing in the morning until the afternoon, then headed over to help bus tables and wash dishes at his family’s restaurant.
“I call it home because it was like a second home,” Vassiliadis said. “For me, it was to help the family out. We didn’t have much. We saw our parents working hard so we got thrown into it, but I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t an average childhood.”
Vassiliadis, his older brother Terry and parents, Evgeni (Eugene) and Paschalina (Lina) immigrated to Canada from Greece with two suitcases and a trunk in 1974. His father’s brother lived in Victoria.
“My dad and mom’s dream, when we came here, was to open up a souvlaki place. Back in the late ’70s, early ’80s, there wasn’t anything in Victoria,” he said.
After working in several local restaurants for the next few years to learn the language and tricks of the trade (and taking out a second mortgage on the family townhouse), Eugene opened a souvlaki restaurant with homemade spanakopita, hummus, gyro and tzatziki recipes.
On November 24, 1979, Eugene’s opened on Fort Street.
At one point, the business had expanded to include three Eugene’s restaurants around the Island. Though they have since closed, they continue to sell their comfort food using the original recipe from 36 years ago to grocery stores around the Island through Eugene’s Wholesale Greek Food.
Vassiliadis, who knows the ins and outs of cleaning, prepping and cooking, no longer scrubs dishes and tables, but instead has taken over the business from his parents when they retired.
Now, his brother Terry and his partner are expanding the businesses again and opening the Village Taverna that will sell food using the same recipes, among other things.
“It was time for me to step out on my own from the family partnership that allowed me to have a little more creativity and start fresh,” Terry said. “When we started, we knew it was a good product that we were putting out there. Customers had become familiar with the taste. We want to continue with that.”
The Village Taverna opens on Monday, Sept. 14 at unit 101-1075 Pendergast Street in the Cook Street Village.