Opening his own gyro shop has been on Mike Tolos' mind ever since he visited his uncle's spot in Greece as a kid.
It was a hole-in-the-wall type place in Thessaloniki, and as soon as Tolos walked in, he was hit with the aroma of pork and chicken roasting on the skewers.
What he enjoyed most about visiting the shop, though, was seeing the love that his uncle put into it, because he felt the same passion himself.
"My uncle did it from love," said Tolos, 39, of Cliffside Park. "The dedication that he has fell on me."
Tolos signed the lease for Jersey Gyros on Main Street in Lodi last March. In April, his uncle met him there to show him the tricks of the trade — and give him his blessing. The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m.
A first generation American, Tolos was born into a family of restaurateurs and says his passion for the industry is in his blood. His dad, known locally as "Bobby the Baker," owned diners across New Jersey, and his mom has always been a masterful baker, he said.
Tolos — previously of North Bergen, Mount Olive and later Baltimore — grew up helping his dad at his diners and learning from his mom in the kitchen. He worked as a general manager of a fast casual restaurant in New York City for 18 years, until he was laid off due to the pandemic.
That's when he decided it was time to start a business venture of his own. The one he's always had his sights set on: A gyro shop.
"This is a passion of mine," said Tolos, from the behind the cash register of his new restaurant. "I'm a people person, I love interacting. In this industry, you need to be a people person before you're a foodie."
Tolos is most excited to give Americans a taste of authentic, Greek gyros, specifically the chicken and pork. He says those are staples in Greece, while lamb gyros — which his shop offers as well — are more common in America.
Tolos is combining his uncle's and mother's recipes, mainly on the dips and marinades, but coming up with some of his own, too. His mom makes the Greek yogurt and baklavas sold up front.
Authentic appetizers go for about $6, while entrees and gyros go for $10.
When asked if Tolos felt like he found his purpose, he nodded, smiled, and said simply, "Yes.
"I like seeing smiles on people's faces when they taste my food."
Jersey Gyros is located in Mid Towne Plaza, at 170 Main St., in Lodi.
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