For George and Diane Demetra Soulellis, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. The owners of Proino Breakfast Club have put all of their eggs into the meal’s basket and it has paid off financially and critically.
The couple have successful restaurants at 14400 Walsingham Road and at 201 West Bay Drive, and the one on Walsingham Road was named best restaurant in the Best of Largo contest last month.
Both George and Diane grew up in the restaurant business in Montreal. Both of their parents’ owned restaurants, so it was only natural for them to want to own their own. After years of hard work, the couple had several restaurants to show for their efforts, including three back in Canada and 15 franchisees.
All of the success allowed them to visit Diane’s father in Florida several times a year. Those visits blossomed into a love of the area.
“We came and we fell in love. It was ideal for kids, for family,” Diane said. “And from once a year we were coming down three times, five times, then 10 times, then we eventually bought our own condo.”
But restaurants are in their blood, so it wasn’t long before George started to think about opening up one here.
“He says, ‘I want to open a restaurant in Florida,’ and I was like, ‘No,’” Diane said. “It’s not going to happen. How are we going to do this? It’s not going to work. We are going to have restaurants there and our family is here.”
The couple, however, agreed to try it and see how it went, so they opened up the West Bay Drive location nearly three years ago. They saw instant success so they opened up a new restaurant on Walsingham Road in March. And they aren’t stopping there.
“Our goal is to open up as many locations as we can in five years,” George said.
Construction has started on their next location in Clearwater, and they are eyeing new ones in Palm Harbor and The Villages.
It was a love of family more than a love of bacon and eggs that led to the concept.
“My father had a pizza joint for about 25 years, and the hours were extensive,” George said. “And I left there and opened up a seafood restaurant and the hours were even worse. So because we had kids – my son was born, a second one was coming – I said let’s do something with shorter hours that permit to having a family life. So by 3 o’clock we are done. You can still go to a family event, soccer or football practice.”
The couple have two children, Nicolas, 18, who attends the University of South Florida, and Maria, 15, who is a student at Clearwater High School. And they say family means more to them than any amount of money, so they are only open until 3 p.m.
“Family is very important to us. It’s the most beautiful, best treasure,” Diane said.
That family-owned-and-run concept has been an instant success in Largo. And the quality of food and hearty portions doesn’t hurt either.
“People want something new, something different,” George said. “We are not your IHOP, we are not your Waffle House. We have a healthier option for breakfast – more creative, nicer dishes.”
The menu includes the mainstays of eggs, bacon and sausage, but also plenty of fresh fruit and some touches of their French-Canadian background, such as crepes. They also feature a lunch menu for those who want something more than breakfast.
The food and cleanliness also have led city leaders to use the restaurant as a place of business. At the West Bay Drive location, Mayor Woody Brown holds his Breakfast with the Mayor event in which he meets with the public, and the chamber of commerce holds meetings at the eatery every two weeks.
Embracing the challenge
Despite all of the success, the couple knows how challenging the business is, and they are willing to work seven days a week and stay hands-on in both of their locations to make sure they can take care of their 30-plus employees.
“You need to have a stomach made out of stainless steel,” George said. “There’s ups and downs, good times, bad times, challenging times. When busy is booming, you’re good. Then there’s a slow season, but those bills are still coming in.”
For the Soulellises, there have been more ups than downs. But they continue to stay humble because decades of experience have taught them how quickly things can change.
“In our business, you are always learning,” George said. “If you meet a restaurateur who says that he knows everything, then he probably knows nothing. … Every day is a learning experience.”
For more information about Proino Breakfast Club, call 444-0937 or 303-3896 or visit www.proinobreakfastclub.com.
This is the third installment in a four-part series featuring the winners of the second Best of Largo contest, sponsored by the city of Largo and hosted by the Largo Leader.