On The Line: Peter Stavros Of Peter's Gourmade Grill, Part Two

Our second installment of On The Line explores the people and experiences that shape Peter Stavros of Peter's Gourmade Grill. We delve into a little family history and learn about what makes him speechless. He even recalls the job that caused his foodservice epiphany. To catch up with Part One, click here.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
That your credit score dictates your life.

Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?
My heroes would have to be my parents; both of which came from different parts of Greece – small villages that, until recently, haven't had running water 24 hours a day. The water was turned on for only an hour each day. They both stopped their education in the sixth grade to stay and work on the family farms.

They later met here in the US and got married. Both left those small villages for a better life and many more opportunities. My father, who is now retired, was a baker for 30 years. And my mother, still to this day, is a waitress at a coffee shop. We got her to work only four days a week now. But she says if she had to be home with my dad all day that she would go bonkers. They are the poster parents of the phrase “Hard work pays off.” And that is where my work ethic and determination come from. They truly are my heroes.

Tell us about your foodservice industry background.
I'll try to remember it all in order, but here goes. My first real job was Baskin Robbins Ice Cream at age 16. At 18, I left and got a server position at Joe's Crab Shack in Long Beach. I worked there and started noticing that I enjoyed serving people their food. It's the reaction people have when getting a plate of food put in front of them that got me hooked to this industry.

So after selling my 1993 Jeep Wrangler (that I had worked and saved for myself), I moved to Pasadena and attended Le Cordon Bleu. I finished the program top of my class and was fortunate to get my first cooking job at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel. I was supposed to apprentice for six months, which meant no pay for six months. So I lied to the chef so I could be hired on as an employee.

After working there for a couple of years, I heard of a new hotel opening up down the street. It was the Montage. I worked for a total of four years for Chef James Boyce in the “Studio”. Not consecutively, though. I have worked in over 30 restaurants. Some stints were a week; others were six months. But from every place I took a little bit of knowledge with me that I still use today.

How did you and Antoinette meet?
I met Antoinette at a job I held working as a GM at a busy restaurant in Huntington Beach. She was a bartender at this place. All the front of the house were female, and I had no trouble bossing them around or being their superior. But with Ant I couldn't get out a complete sentence. I don't even think I was speaking a language when I had to talk to her. I had never experienced that sort of thing, but it's true. I never condone dating in the workplace. So that's why we both quit. And six months later the Gourmade Grill was born.

Why choose a gas station?
Why not? I don't have millions in the bank. I don't have a rich mommy or daddy. I'm not a trust fund baby, either. My choices were pretty limited. No bank was giving out loans, especially to me. So the Valero gas station was the place. It was just crazy enough to catch peoples' attention. Ant and I had, between the two of us, a combined total of $6,500 to get the doors open. I downplayed the seriousness of the situation with her. I didn't need her as stressed as I was. But after signing the lease, that's when things got real for me. I knew I had to make it happen. No matter what. And I did. Opened the doors August 17, 2010.

How do you make 100 square feet work?
100 square feet is it. That's what I got to work with and that's what is working. I figured out how. Can't stock up on anything. No storing of product. No buying for the week. I buy for the shift. We shop in the morning, we shop in the afternoon. That's it. Shop, prep, sell, shop again.

What is your most valuable piece of cookware and why?
It would have to be my “Lang”. It's the Rolls Royce of cooking equipment. It has a two-inch griddle plate, for even heat distribution, and a clam shell type top that opens and closes onto the griddle. When closed, it heats up to 800 degrees in five seconds. I use it for almost all my cooking.

Tell us about how diners can text their order ahead of time.
The texting thing is still being perfected. But here's the skinny. Instead of calling in your order, you text it to (714) 273-7922. After it is received by us, you get a confirmation text back stating your order was received. You get an order number and an estimated time that it will take for your order to be ready. It's a machine. It's not a live person.

What dish would you tell newcomers to Peter's to try first?
The ABC burger. It sets the bar.

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I would be catering if I didn't have Gourmade. 

What advice do you have for those for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
Make sure you're passionate about it. If being in a hot atmosphere all
day, and having a chef on your ass all day doesn't sound fun, then
choose another career.

What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
In five years, I'll be doing what I'm doing today, working my butt off trying to be great. In 10 years, I'll be working my butt off trying to be great.

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