Local Heroes

How Chrysi Arnaki of Argo Greek Cuisine shares her heritage with Vancouver

May 5, 2021

How a foodie turned dog trainer turned lawyer turned aesthetician became a Vancouver restaurant owner

A serial entrepreneur, Chrysi Arnaki of Argo Greek Cuisine is no stranger to starting a business from scratch. She’s worked in an eclectic mix of industries from law to dog breeding, aesthetics to real estate. Born and raised in Greece, she always had a deep reverence for food. Her mother was “the best cook she’s ever known. Better than the professionals. She turned me into a foodie by the time I was a teenager.” In her twenties, Chrysi traveled the globe from Zimbabwe to Jamaica to Thailand, grabbing a cookbook from every place she traveled. 

Chrysi moved from Greece to Canada to live on a farm and compete in world-renowned dog breeding competitions. When her dog-breeding dreams faded, she moved to the city and studied to become an esthetician. “I used my entrepreneurial instincts and worked hard to get my name out there, resulting in a robust clientele.” She ended up meeting her now husband during this time period in Vancouver. “My husband was such an amazing cook. He owned restaurants in the past, but when I met him, he was working hard for other people’s restaurants, traveling back and forth to Greece.” The perfect combination of a passion for food, culinary talent, and entrepreneurship, Chrysi and her husband decided to create their own restaurant concept four years later, “We knew it was going to be a big responsibility so we took our time and really figured out our strategy.”

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Pioneering the virtual restaurant space

Being in one of the most expensive cities in the world from a real estate perspective, Chrysi and her husband spent months looking for a space. “Knowing that restaurants have such a low profit margin, between 5-7%, we wanted to do something that made sense from a numbers perspective. My husband’s very observant. He started taking note of what was working in Vancouver and what was missing in the region.” In such a diverse environment with residents coming from across the globe, what was working in Canada was “ethnically diverse restaurants. Restaurants that reminded people of their heritage. But they were serving big family style portions. A lot of these restaurants were more old school. They saw take-out and delivery as a little experiment. There were very few high-quality, prestigious restaurants that offered takeout or delivery.” Chrysi and her husband had found their white space and Argo Greek Cuisine was born. “We were the pioneers of virtual restaurants. We bought a small space in one of the fastest growing areas in Vancouver, Burnaby, and invested $250k to put a kitchen into the space, and 8 months later we opened.” 

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Hiring from around the globe to build a team that would delivery on Argo Greek Cuisine’s quality standards

Chrysi spent her time designing the interior of the space, and her husband did the kitchen. They ended up having to quit their jobs to focus on the restaurant. When the space and the business plan were complete, she began searching for employees. “Vancouver’s an extremely expensive place to live. Many people who live in Vancouver didn’t grow up cooking, so we ended up having to cook ourselves for an entire year.” To combat this challenge, many businesses in Canada use temporary foreign workers through the Labor Market Impact Assessment program. “We ended up hiring people from Indian descent, people from the Philippines, some from Nepal, and a Brazilian couple.” For Chrysi, owning a restaurant has been both rewarding and challenging. “When you run a restaurant, you really rely on people - customers and employees. I quickly realized that with the LMIA program, they’re interviewing us in the same way we’re interviewing them. Our focus is maintaining high quality, keeping a constant work ethic, and growing. For our employees, they’re looking for a better quality of life: so we pay them based on Canadian standards, plus overtime, holidays, bonuses based on productivity, medical benefits, and team trips.” Chrysi and Argo Greek Cuisine broke even in 2020. “It’s about execution and longevity. Because of the lack of profitability of success, you have to focus on longevity.” 

Transitioning from a virtual restaurant focused on catering to a virtual restaurant focused on online-delivery during COVID-19

Though Argo Greek Cuisine was always a “virtual restaurant concept,” pre-COVID, they did most of their business through catering. “We were never on the delivery apps. It was a shock. I took a few days and decided that we would sign up for all the third-party delivery apps and stay open during the pandemic.” For Chrysi, transitioning to 100% third-party delivery was frustrating. “The apps were driving me crazy. I felt like I no longer had control over my business: they did. Finding ways to nail order timing and keep the kitchen efficient while managing multiple delivery tablets was very overwhelming for the team. I was worried about the quality: if a driver arrives late and we didn’t know they were going to, that customer might get soggy food.  On top of that, we had 3 delivery tablets, a customer walking in for takeout, the phone ringing. Between Uber Eats, Skip the Dishes, Doordash, and our own online system, our front-of-house looked like a call center. In the beginning of COVID, we were horrified. Writing down orders trying to make sure we didn’t make any mistakes while more and more kept coming in. We were missing orders. All the beeping. The phone ringing. Writing down every modifier. It was a nightmare.”

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Finding a order aggregator, partner, and “secretary” for Argo Greek Cuisine in Otter

Then someone from Otter reached out to Chrysi. “People call me all day, but someone called me from Otter. They said they had a platform that could consolidate all our delivery orders. And they said it was simple. I’m an academic, but I’m not a technologist, so the simplicity was a key factor. Hundreds of companies call us, but after talking to someone from the Otter team for 20 minutes, I knew this call was different. Otter for us was a brilliant thing. Then they told me the orders could go into one tablet and print directly to the kitchen. I’m like, did I just find a secretary! Otter is the secretary of all the apps.”

With Otter, Chrysi no longer has to pay constant attention to accepting and writing down orders: all of her delivery orders are automatically accepted and sent to the kitchen. Our front-of-house staff was in complete bliss. They were like, “We can’t believe this exists!”

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How Otter makes navigating industry evolution a shortcut to success, not just a means of survival 

“For me, there’s one key lesson I disseminate to my team. Change is my middle name, and you either jump on the wave or get left behind. Forget what restaurants used to look like and do before - this is the 21st century. Nothing’s going to go back to exactly the way it was before, so we’re going to embrace it. If you can’t adapt to change, you’re bound to become obsolete. 

“When we signed up for Otter, it was truly like we hired a secretary. Everything is very clear and very well organized. Otter brings everything together and lets us see everything in an orderly way. We’ve even connected our direct-to-consumer delivery platform hosted on Gloria Foods, so we literally have everything in one place.”

For Chrysi, one of the best parts of partnering with Otter was the attention and support she received from her customer success representatives. “Your team always replies quickly at all hours of the day any time I have issues. I feel so confident and secure with you guys. I’m a connection type of person, and I like to give my business to people that care about my business. Otter didn’t just give me the product and go, it was a solution and a partnership that I’m excited to grow in the future.”

Support Chrysi and Argo Greek Cuisine

You can support Argo Greek Cuisine by ordering from the restaurant on Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats, Doordash, or their own online ordering platform. Chrysi’s picks? “The chicken souvlaki, roast lamb and calamari. You’ll love it.”

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