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Cuisines merge at Pappas' new place in Trinity

Louis L. Pappas was restless after selling the family's renowned Tarpon Springs restaurant in 2002.

Pappas, now 53, turned his energy to a string of small eateries called Louis Pappas Market Cafes that dot the bay area.

But the man who left school at Tarpon Springs High early every day so he could work the lunch rush at the family's restaurant needed something else.

"I was in my early 40s and not ready to retire," Pappas said. He had sold the Original Louis Pappas Riverside Cafe to cousins.

So in September, he opened Pappas Ranch — a full-service restaurant at 11345 State Road 54 in southwestern Pasco County's Trinity area.

With lots of cheek-to-cheek congratulatory kisses, Pappas welcomed friends earlier this month to the restaurant's grand opening.

"Now, I must be out of my mind because I know what it's like to build cafes," Pappas said. "It's been a long time since I've been in the full-service restaurant business. I guess I want to see if I can do it. If I can make this work."

With cafes, there is limited table service like there is with full-service establishments.

Pappas said he has four strikes against him in the quest: the terrible economy, lackluster food reviews of a restaurant that used to be there, its location in a pasture and the fact that the building looks more like an antique car garage than a restaurant.

But Pappas has two things in his favor: his last name and his grandfather's potato salad.

"When you have the Pappas name, it makes a big difference," said Carol Dover, president/CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

"If anybody can make a restaurant successful during these tough economic times, it's Louis Pappas," Dover said. "When you go to Outback, it's an established name. People go there, they know it's a good restaurant with good food consistently. The Pappas family has done the same thing. … It's no different than a chain restaurant."

The barbecue and prime rib offered at Pappas Ranch are a far cry from what the Pappas brand is known for — and that's its special Greek salad.

In 1925, Louis M. Pappas and his wife, Flora, opened the Original Pappas Riverside Cafe specializing in Greek-American cuisine. The staple was the Greek salad with a scoop of Pappas' potato salad under the lettuce.

After more than 75 years of success in Tarpon Springs, Louis L. Pappas expanded his grandfather's concept into the smaller cafe-style restaurants. There are five in the Tampa Bay area.

Now, the potato salad will join barbecue, prime rib and steaks.

"This is a hybrid," Pappas said of Pappas Ranch. "It's not a barbecue place, period. There is prime rib and steak, and what is a Greek salad doing on the menu? Some of the most successful ventures have diversified concepts under one roof."

Pappas spent six to eight weeks in the kitchen refining a menu for Pappas Ranch. He took the base barbecue sauce of long-time family friend Jimmy Bryant and enhanced it. There's now a sweet, a sweet and tangy and a white sauce.

The red barn-shaped building once housed Roi's Bar-B-Que. Pappas renovated the facility, giving it a rustic feel.

There are Pappas family photos of hunting trips lining the walls. There is a small stage and polished floors. About 60 jobs have been created.

While development has stalled in the Trinity area, many of the businesses have remained vibrant. That's the case at Mitchell Ranch Plaza on State Road 54 and Little Road.

"Mitchell Ranch has always been a very strong center for us and has continued to perform well during the economic downturn" said Joel Cunningham, spokesman for Inland US Management LLC, the Illinois company that owns Mitchell Ranch. "Many tenants have reported sales increases over the last several months, and we recently signed two new leases with an upscale salon and a cell phone retailer."

Joe Alpine, president of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, said with a new hospital due to open in a year on State Road 54 and Little Road, the Pappas Ranch will benefit.

"By already being established in the area, with a good reputation, people will continue to go there," he said.

The plan is simple, Pappas said.

"As long as Louis Pappas serves good food and I treat you like you are my family in my house, we will be successful," he said.

Cuisines merge at Pappas' new place in Trinity 02/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 8:09pm]
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