Now a Franchise, The Gyro Shack Continues Its Founder's Mission 

When Gus Zaharioudakis' large intestine ruptured in early 2015, he was forced to "give up one of the beasts," as he put it—in other words, to sell one of the businesses he'd spent time and money building. He chose to give up the younger of his babies: The Gyro Shack, a 5-year-old restaurant chain he'd started, in part, to give his kids a place to work.

Both of Zaharioudakis' businesses revolved around his ancestry. He's a first-generation Greek immigrant who came to America with his parents at age 5, grew up in Los Angeles, then moved to Boise with his wife and children when he was 26. In 1997, he started Costakis Inc., which imports Greek spices, olives, oils and other artisan products for restaurants in the City of Trees.

"We fell into the business of selling the spices because I'd been working in restaurants all my life, since I was 14. And I grew with Boise, basically," Zaharioudakis said.

In a way, The Gyro Shack was a natural outgrowth of Costakis Inc.; Zaharioudakis had all of the best ingredients and a host of family recipes stored in his head. All he had to do was put them together.

"We opened up the [restaurants] for the love of food, because I wanted a good gyro and I couldn't find a good gyro in Boise, personally," he explained. "So we went out and did it...we just wanted to feed everybody good food, good fresh food. That's just what it's all about."

To hear him tell it, Zaharioudakis made out well when it came to giving up his company. Although Doug Miller and Seth Brink, the businesses partners who bargained with Zaharioudakis for 10 months before he agreed to sell them the company, have very different business backgrounds from his own, Zaharioudakis felt they shared his vision. When they asked him to stay on as a consultant, that sealed the deal.

"They truly want it to be 110-percent Greek," Zaharioudakis said. "Any time they want to make a change they go, 'Gus, we need this.' And I'm there no matter what for them."

The combination of Zaharioudakis' culinary expertise, and Miller and Brink's business acumen—together, the two have more than 30 years of experience opening national and international franchise locations for Papa Murphy's—seems to have been a winning one. What started out as two drive-thru restaurants and a food truck in Boise has grown to seven locations in two states, and franchise agreements for 25 restaurants.

click to enlarge The Gyro shack opened a downtown location on Eighth Street in October of 2016.  - ZINNIA BARNES
  • Zinnia Barnes
  • The Gyro shack opened a downtown location on Eighth Street in October of 2016.

While Brink said some changes he and Miller made were no-brainers, such as adding pictures to the menu and leaning on their Papa Murphy's experience, there have certainly been challenges.

"We decided, really three to four months after we started, that we would have to franchise much more quickly than we thought," said Brink, who took the title of vice president. "...We'd had quite a bit of interest after we bought, so we thought, 'Oh my gosh, we've got to do this before anyone else does it for us.' So in July of 2015 we hired a consultant out of Chicago and an attorney out of New York, and kind of created this team."

The rapid changes in the business came with growing pains. Under Zaharioudakis, almost everything on the menu at The Gyro Shack was made in-house, from the yogurt-based tzatziki and "green spicy" sauces to the falafel-like veggie patties and hummus, but the growth of the business soon outpaced what in-store production could handle. Determined to keep their products local, Brink and Miller turned to Life's Kitchen, a food service job training program for young adults, and then to Create Common Good, a nonprofit that trains refugees and others with barriers to employment, to make the hummus and tzatziki in Boise.

"All of the recipes that we have at The Gyro Shack today are still Gus's recipes," Brink said. "...We are just taking it to a new level."

With franchise locations soon to be popping up as far away as Seattle and Vancouver, Washington, though, production may have to go even bigger. One potential solution is a partnership with Zacca Hummus, a local hummus maker using sustainably sourced garbanzo beans from the Zenner Family Farm in Genesee, Idaho.

"We're working on creating a new recipe with [Janine Zacca], so she can have a Zacca Gyro Shack hummus, and co-branding it and maybe getting it into stores as well," Brink said.

Real estate has been another challenge for The Gyro Shack, which has been competing with coffee giants Dutch Bros. and Black Rock Coffee Bar for double drive thru locations in larger cities. Losing ground to larger brands has forced the partners to "get a little bit creative," and open stores set back in shopping centers, or shacks with only one drive thru window. Miller and Brink are still adding local Gyro Shacks too, and are in the process of building a location at the intersection of McMillan and Linder roads, and signing a lease for a Nampa outpost. They also plan to expand the original Gyro Shack on Overland Road by turning it into the chain's first true sit down restaurant, taking over an old Pizza Hut nearby.

While a lot has changed—and will continue to change—with The Gyro Shack, a lot has stayed the same, too. The old recipes remain, and Greek products imported by Costakis Inc. add authenticity to every dish. When asked whether he would take his family to the new sit-down Gyro Shack location, Zaharioudakis responded with unabashed enthusiasm.

"Are you kidding me?" he asked. "Of course! I eat at all the Gyro Shacks."

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