Five decades and three generations: The recipe to success for this iconic steakhouse celebrating its 50th anniversary

Caesar’s Steak House and Cocktail Bar reflects on 50 years of the family business as they look forward to the next 50

By Krista Sylvester | April 28, 2022 |5:00 am

Caesar's Steakhouse owners, left to right, Con (Gus) Giannoulis, Connie Giannoulis-Stuart, and Gerry Stuart are celebrating 50 years in business.

Photo: Submitted

It was a random Wednesday at the end of April in 1972 — at the top of the music charts was “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack. 

Back then, hard liquor such as whiskey and scotch were the drinks of choice, and that’s right around the time when Caesar’s Steakhouse hit the scene.

Five decades and three generations later, their luxurious environment and prime Alberta beef has catapulted Caesar’s Steakhouse into one of Calgary’s top fine dining destinations. 

It was a different time when they opened, says Caesar’s co-owner Connie Giannoulis-Stuart, who together with her father Con Giannoulis and her husband Gerry Stuart, is celebrating the iconic steakhouse’s 50th anniversary this week. 

“My father was one of the co-founders of the restaurant and he had other partners at the time. I was quite young when he first opened it, but I remember seeing how hard he worked,” she says. 

It was a different era 

Back then, people were looking for fixed menus: the bread, the soup, the salad package, says Giannoulis-Stuart.

“Wine wasn’t a big deal — it was the hard liquor and the different cocktails of the times.” 

Eventually, the market was changing and so were diners’ menu preferences, so Caesar’s upgraded their menu and made it more a la carte. New York steaks, lobster tails, and of course, prime Alberta beef, reigned supreme. 

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years: the legendary restaurant’s ambiance. 

Steeped in nostalgia with dark wood, burgundy leather, and ornate detailing, the downtown location is dripping with a warm ambiance that guests have enjoyed for generations. Their second location in Willow Park echoes the original downtown location’s stature.  

“We are committed to maintaining Caesar’s legacy by staying authentic to its vision of the ritual of dining, a ritual that is something opulent but personal, savoured in a luxurious environment where the nostalgia evokes feelings of connection to one’s memories and those around them,” Giannoulis-Stuart adds. 

Humble beginnings 

A then 17-year-old Con Giannoulis immigrated to Canada from Greece with no family by his side and just $26 in his pocket. He even owed his father $1,000 for the boat ticket and moving expenses. 

As he learned how to speak English, he also started working up the ranks of the restaurant business, starting from the bottom before becoming an executive chef and ultimately owning his own restaurants. 

On April 26, 1972, Giannoulis and three other young Greek immigrant business owners opened Caesar’s Steakhouse; a 180-seat dining room and 70-seat lounge on April 26, 1972. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

The group purchased an empty print shop among the vacant houses and empty lots that characterized 4th Avenue SW at the time. 

It was a visionary decision — considering the restaurant industry’s notorious failure rate — but 50 years later and the restaurant has weathered many ups and downs over the years. 

Weathering five decades of ups and downs 

Giannoulis-Stuart admits it wasn’t always easy: the business had to weather recessions, a changing restaurant industry, bouts with mad cow disease across Alberta, and of course most recently, a two-year pandemic. 

“Economy downturns are always tough because you’re not having a lot of customers dine in your establishment, and that’s tough when you’re trying to manage your team, which is like a family,” she says. 

Over the pandemic, like the entire industry, the two restaurants were shut down, so they decided to offer takeout. 

“That was great because we were able to keep our entire kitchen teams at both locations working through the whole pandemic,” she says, adding it was important to them to stay open. 

“When you build a kitchen team, it is a team. And it’s magical to see the whole group work together and how they can think for each other and protect each other.” 

The recipe for success 

Known for its focus on exceptionally prepared Alberta beef and professional service, Caesar’s is often referred to as the “home of the Caesar cocktail.” 

But it’s the restaurant’s consistency over the last 50 years that Giannoulis-Stuart says is the recipe to its success. 

“It’s always been important to not only maintain consistency in the quality of food that we deliver to our customers but also the experience that we offer,” she says. 

Over the years, the venue has been jam-packed with businesspeople closing deals over Emperor martini lunches and dinners fueled with bottles of red wine. There’s also been marriage proposals, weddings, and anniversary celebrations. 

“We are privileged to have long been the place where it’s been for families and generations. When people walk in, they know what they are going to get. We’ve got a tradition to uphold. We are respectful of that legacy and feel privileged to be able to continue it,” Gerry Stuart adds.

Hopefully another 50 years ahead 

Giannoulis-Stuart says they are thrilled to be involved in Calgary’s current restaurant climate, which is becoming increasingly more diverse. 

“I think the restaurant scene in Calgary is exciting because there are a lot of new chefs and restaurants that are coming in and trying different food offerings and experiences that maybe you see more in some of the larger cities or countries in Europe,” she says. 

That said, she says Caesar’s will continue to provide that authentic steak house experience they are known and beloved for. 

“We’re just really honoured and fortunate to have a community that has supported us over the years. And we’re hoping to build on that legacy and be able to go for another 50 years.” 

The original Caesar’s is located at 512 – 4th Ave. SW in the heart of downtown, with a second location in Willow Park, 110 – 10816 Macleod Trail SE.

 

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Krista Sylvester

Managing Editor at Calgary Citizen

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