Penny Kahramanos, owner of Naxos Grille and Bar, grew up in the restaurant business, working at establishments - restaurants or hotels - owned by her parents, and other restaurateurs in the city and region. But running a restaurant of her own wasn’t always in Penny’s plans.

Penny KahramanosPenny studied biology, computer science, and business at Lakehead University, and had a job in a different industry before her uncle encouraged her to open a restaurant of her own.

She dove in, and Naxos Grille and Bar - named after the Greek island where her father was born - opened its doors in 2007. It remains a popular Thunder Bay destination today.

Penny took some time to tell the CEDC about herself for Small Business Week.

  • What started you on the entrepreneurial journey (who/what inspired you?)

○     I think it started pretty young. When I was eight years old, I was trying to sell pet rocks to customers coming through the front foyer of my parents’ restaurant. My family was always in business for themselves, so I imagined I would be too someday. My dream was to be a dentist, but I found myself in the business program at Lakehead University and really enjoyed it. That ‘s what really got me thinking about being in business for myself.

  • Where did you turn for assistance/mentoring?

○     My mom is my number one mentor, but my whole family and my close friends have always been there to help and support me. I’m lucky though, I’ve received a lot of assistance and mentoring from a lot of different people over the years. I feel it’s necessary to have a mentor at all stages in life and business. When I worked at Sun Life Financial, Linda Buchan and John Deman were wonderful mentors and taught me a lot about financial health and wellbeing. When I worked for brothers Tax and Alex Callianteris at their restaurant, they taught me a lot about the business. Today, I have many people I can count on, and have built a stable network of business professionals to help mentor me.

  • What were some of the biggest life lessons you’ve learned along the way?

○     In the toughest of times, there will always be someone there to help you get through things.

○     Too much stress can lead to unhealthiness, so it’s important to find that healthy balance and look after yourself.

  • Why Thunder Bay?

○     I love beautiful Thunder Bay and I’m proud to own a business here and call this city home! This is where I grew up and went to school, this is my hometown. My family and friends live here. It’s a great place to live and work.  You don’t have to spend hours in a car commuting to work or being stuck in traffic. I can drive to camp in 35 mins and go for a swim in the lake. We’re surrounded by beautiful trees, and it’s the opposite of a concrete jungle. I love it here, such a beautiful place to live and a nice community of people. I really hate the cold weather in the winter though.

  • What advice would you give to someone who’s just started their entrepreneurial journey, or thinking of starting it?

○     Starting your own business involves a lot of risk. However, if you truly are an entrepreneur, and you are passionate about what you want to do and you’re willing to put 100 per cent commitment into it and stay focused you should go for it. Don’t let fear hold you back.

  • What was something that was unexpected in this journey?

○     There were so many unexpected things that happened over the last 12 years.  It’s hard to pick one. I just know to always expect the unexpected. An example would be getting a call from the alarm company after hours on a freezing cold day because the pipes burst, and water is flooding the restaurant.

  • What was the greatest moment in this journey?

○     We’re open seven days a week at 8 a.m. with over 40 people working here year-round. We wouldn’t be in business without the tremendous and loyal support from our customers/community and our staff. Thankfully, I’ve never had to lay anyone off even though the winter months are tough on us because it’s slower. People don’t like to venture out when it’s -46, but our doors are open, and our staff is ready to serve them no matter the weather.  The greatest thing is that many of my staff members have been working here since the day I opened, or started working here shortly after. And to have their loyalty and determination, and their passion, and their adaptiveness, and their tenacity, to come here and work with me every day for years, in an industry that typically has high turnover is pretty amazing.

  • If you could be a food, which would it be?

○     Pizza, I’m pizza. I’m 100 per cent pizza.

  • What is your business’ short pitch?

○     Great food, great service, warm and friendly atmosphere.

For more about Naxos Grille and Bar, visit the restaurant at 610 Arthur Street W. in Thunder Bay, or the website at naxosthunderbay.com.

 

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