By Kathleen Swift • Cover Photo by Artistic Expressions Photography • Restaurant Photos by Savanah Mandeville
“We were both born and raised into the restaurant business,” said George and Jamie Michalopoulos, owners of Mythos Restaurant in Joplin, Missouri. Both hail from Greek immigrant families, and working in the family business and being in touch with their Greek heritage is central to who they are.
Jamie was raised in Kentucky where her family owned a steak house. She learned the restaurant business by working alongside her family first as a dishwasher and then as a hostess and working the buffet line and the grill.
George, whose family owned the old Ramada Inn in Joplin, also learned the restaurant business working alongside
“I started when I was young by wrapping the potatoes to be baked,” said George. “As I got older, I worked washing dishes and clearing tables.”
By working with their families, George and Jamie learned the restaurant business from the ground up. But in 1989, they both experienced a shift in their lives when coincidentally, each family moved to Greece.
“We didn’t know each other then,” said Jamie, “but both of our parents had decided that they wanted us to know our grandparents better, and they wanted us to know more about Greece. Before we moved, I could count and say my letters in Greek, but that was about all. My parents enrolled me in a Greek school, and through immersion in the language, within three months, I was fluent.”
George graduated from high school in Greece. “It was great to spend three years living closer to our families. I barely knew them before we moved, and it was an opportunity to grow closer.”
For Jamie, the opportunity to grow closer to her family was when she learned Greek cooking, a skill that would serve her well when she and George opened Mythos, a fine dining restaurant, in Joplin, Missouri.
“My mom had always cooked Greek food, but it was my grandmother who really taught me to cook. I watched everything she did and learned from her.”
Now, as owners of Mythos, George and Jamie based their menu on those experiences from Greece.
“We’ve taken Greek dishes,” said George, “and given them flares and twists to suit American tastes. For instance, we learned that our clientele likes some meat in our grape leaf dish instead of just rice. We serve lamb chops, but in Greece, you would see more offerings of whole leg of lamb and lamb ribs.
“One of the biggest changes we’ve made over the last 15 years here at Mythos is that we have evolved more into a Mediterranean menu. We still honor our Greek heritage, but now we offer more broadly European dishes. The Mediterranean diet is full of olive oil, seasonal vegetables and fish. We follow the Mediterranean way of cooking with fresh ingredients, which eliminates preservatives, and we make things from scratch.”
And speaking of olive oil, George said extra virgin oil is the best.
“We come from the Peloponnesus region in southern Greece. The area is known for the best olive oil in the world. There is a huge difference between it and the olive oil you normally get here. The olive oils sold here are generally a blend of oils from Spain, Italy and Greece. The oil from Peloponnesus is greener and sweeter.”
Jamie added, “Our families’ homes in Greece are surrounded by groves of olive trees growing on the mountainside. The difference in the taste comes from the cool sea breezes that rise up the mountains and hit the trees. That environment can’t be duplicated. We hope to possibly offer Greek olive oils in the future so that others can taste the difference.”
Family is important to George and Jamie. Their son and daughter have both worked at Mythos. Family dynamics are the foundation of their restaurant.
Jamie noted, “Even if we bicker at work sometimes, we always have the peace of mind that everything will turn out fine. It is great to work with family, and we’ve been able to give our children the kind of experience we had in the family business.”
For the future, the Michalopoulos family sees Mythos continuing the Greek traditions with a modern twist.
“When we first opened,” said Jamie, “we were more formal. Now, more casual dress is fine. Many people come in dressed in shorts and bring the kids along. It’s a more laid-back atmosphere.”
“One thing that remains over the years,” said George, “is our commitment to our customers. When you eat at Mythos the first time, you are a customer. When you eat here the second time, you are like family. We like to build relationships and have close interactions with our customers.”