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Strip Mall Gourmet: How to Surprise and Delight in Any Location

Season 2: Episode 2


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Think Greek in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, has won Yelp’s Best Bite on the Beach twice, thanks to their creativity in the kitchen. Their secret ingredient to business success, however, is thoughtfulness. From the decor to the generational recipes, the Think Greek team’s enthusiasm for sharing their culture resonates with regulars and newcomers, like reviewer Andi P.

On the Yelp Blog: Ever wondered what to do with the feedback you receive in online reviews? Check out these insights from a customer that can help you make positive improvements to your business.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur… and the reviewer… about the story and business lessons behind their interactions. Let’s see what’s behind this week’s review.

ANDI: I go to visit my in-laws pretty regularly in Boca Raton. So we were on our way down south and my husband and I were pretty hungry. Famished, in fact. He’s a vegetarian, so it’s not as easy as it is when I’m just looking for something.

I also don’t know how some people just pull off the side of the road and try something without checking it first. That’s just not me. It’s not my generation. If I’m gonna spend money somewhere, I’m gonna first check reviews for it. So we actually got off of the highway near Port St. Lucie and we pulled over really quickly. And that’s where I did a search of what’s nearby, which I love that feature so much because there are so many large chains and fast food right off the highway. But this led me down to this strip mall that I would never have seen otherwise.

And I believe in “Strip Mall Gourmet.” I think that some of the best local businesses get their start in nondescript strip malls. And this was one of those spots. So as soon as we pulled up, I was already super excited because usually when something looks maybe not the prettiest, right from the get-go, but they have such good reviews… I already know that this is gonna be one of those perfect hidden gems.

So the nice thing is: as soon as we walked in, it was like transporting to a different place. It was so obvious that they’ve put care and time into making the place super inviting and make it feel like you’re kind of part of the family there. I was surprised by that too, cuz a lot of times these places that have incredible food on the inside are not lookers. But Think Greek definitely made themselves look real good once you walked in. 

EMILY: Andi P. doesn’t live near Port St. Lucie, so when she needed to find a restaurant while on the road, she turned to Yelp. Thanks to its positive reviews, she discovered Think Greek. Her experience lived up to the hype, so she left a review of her own:

ANDI: Five stars for a quick Greek lunch that hit all the right notes, including great staff. First thing to note is that the restaurant is in a strip mall and not to be discouraged by the outward appearance. Once you enter, you’ll see it’s bright inside and features family photos, and even a chalkboard wall where presumably patrons have left their special mark.

It really feels like a neighborhood gem, but in a strip mall. I ordered the Greek salad, which has their falafel and dolmades, which are the stuffed grape leaves. Heads up: It is huge and absolutely packed with feta cheese, which was a very happy surprise. This may be the most robust Greek salad I’ve ever had, and I highly recommend it.

My partner got the falafel pita. What I didn’t mention about my salad is that the falafel was freshly fried and so good. It wasn’t dry at all, which is sadly the case with many restaurants, and had a really distinct flavor. We both agreed that this was one of our favorite falafels we’d had.

His only suggestion was to spread the hummus throughout the pita. He chose hummus over the tzatziki, but it was just a large dollop at the opening of the pita, and it left half the pita pretty dry. That being said, the hummus was chunky and clearly homemade. Very good. Overall, glad Yelp directed us to this great spot on the way down to South Florida, rather than having to have fast food right off the highway.

EMILY: Andi’s review was packed with details. She set expectations about the restaurant exterior, emphasized what was great about the experience, and left some constructive feedback. Her review reveals a core element of Think Greek: the care they put into everything they do. Rosanne, business representative for the restaurant, exemplifies that value. 

ROSANNE: My name is Rosanne Leo. I am the general manager, social media manager, catering manager, everything, all-in-one of Think Greek. Think Greek is a family-owned business. I am part of the family.

We started off in 2014 as a food truck. We went everywhere in Florida, all the way up to Orlando, down to Miami, and even some events on the west coast. We did that from 2014 to the end of 2017. In the beginning of 2018, after we got rid of the truck, we wanted to go to a brick and mortar.

We found a little spot in our now-hometown cuz we’re originally from New York. We found a spot in Port St. Lucie. A little off the beaten path, but it was everything that we needed and wanted and we were looking for. We were looking for at least two or three months before we found the spot by accident.

And we have been there from October 2018 until right now. We’ve made it through the pandemic. We made it through everything. And this will be our fifth year. And we have just expanded again, going back to our roots, doing a food trailer. It’s exciting. 

EMILY: Opening a food truck is a common way restaurateurs get their start. They’re more financially accessible and have the perk of mobility. Rosanne and the owner of Think Greek saw a thriving food truck market and a gap they knew they could fill. 

ROSANNE: We came down to Port St. Lucie from New York. The owner is from Queens Astoria, which is Greektown. And I grew up in Nassau County in Long Island. We came down for a vacation and we saw that food trucks were really big in 2014. And we saw that there wasn’t really a Greek truck. And we were like, “Okay, we can definitely do this.”

So, went back to New York, started brainstorming, doing all the behind-the-scenes. Found a food truck and came down, looked at it, and just started to go. We wanted to eventually expand and grow and not just stay in one niche. And we thought the food truck would definitely – since we were brought up in a Greek family, in an immigrant family with Greek food on the table and Easter and our customs – that we would be able to bring our culture. Yes, our food and our recipes and our family’s recipes, and recipes that we have come up with that do a little bit of Greek-American twist on things to people who may have not tried good Greek food. Maybe they’ve just tried the fast food Greek food. And we really took joy in bringing that to people who may not have in a regular day tried a gyro or a souvlaki or spanakopita.

EMILY: It would have been easy to look at all of the food trucks and see no need for another one. But the team behind Think Greek didn’t approach it with a scarcity mindset. They saw space for their innovative ideas. They embraced the challenge of creating and selling a lesser-known cuisine. Eventually, Think Greek opened a brick and mortar location. 

ROSANNE: It seems like in Port St. Lucie – a lot of Florida – you drive everywhere. So there’s a lot of strip malls where you can hit up like four different things in one parking area. So we are in just a regular strip mall. There’s no big anchor stores or anything like that. 

We spent a lot of time decorating this restaurant. We were in there July 2018. It was the Fourth of July. And there’s a pallet wall. We actually went out, found the pallets, sanded the pallets, hung the pallets ourselves, stained the pallets. So that’s one big part of our wall, which is really cool because it is rustic but it’s modern and it makes you feel comfortable. Like just the chill place to come and eat and just gives you a nice vibe.

I did family portraits on wood. So I took old pictures of our families and of us together. And I actually transferred them onto wood with modge podge. Then the images stayed on the wood and it made it look like an old-timey picture. And we hung those up on the wood wall. 

And then we had one “show us your love” wall. Since we live in the community, we are living, working, and everything is around our community. You live, you work, and you wanna make your community feel part of what you have. So this “show us some love” wall just started out as one random wall. Now it has morphed into two walls. Because the kids come with their parents and they eat and they like to draw a picture or write a little message or write their name. Then when they come in, the next time they see their picture, they see their name, and they feel like, “Oh cool, I did that before. Let me do it again.”

We’re going on five years. I have a customer who came in and her child was two and now he’s seven. And I have a customer, her child was like 10 and now she’s 15. So we have grown up with these families. It’s just amazing. You have some customers that are really good customers. They put their tallies every time they come, they have their tallies on the wall. And it’s just a cool thing that we thought would include our customers who are our neighbors into our space. So that takes up two walls. And then on another wall we have a Scrabble. So “Think Greek” is the root word. And then we have, like, “gyro,” “spanakopita” coming off the little word search wall. 

The table tops. The owner made those. She cut them, sanded them, and glazed them. And we really took a lot of time and effort and love to make our decor, you know, something special since we were in such a nondescript location. We wanted, when someone did find us, to say, “Hey, this is a really cool spot. This is awesome. You took a lot of time to put this all together.” 

EMILY: Every aspect of the restaurant’s interior was thought out and created with meticulous detail. They intentionally designed a space that the community feels an ownership over too. In turn, families become regular customers. But Think Greek also provides a welcoming environment for a newcomer who’s just passing through town. The details don’t go unnoticed. 

ANDI:I do remember when we walked in they had decorated for the holidays, so they had tinsel lights and they had wreaths and they even had a Christmas tree and that just led to this amazing home feel.

They also had, on their wood wall, all of these old photos that I have to imagine must have been family photos – some of them newer, some of them older. So truly walking in there, I felt like it was a family-owned business. 

What I do remember is that the staff was warm and welcoming and it just reiterated this family environment. When you go to a Greek restaurant, I much rather that than the most sleek, modern Greek restaurants that have no personality. Like, clearly someone put those boards on the wall. Clearly someone put those pictures up and put the garland up and everything. It’s just those special little touches that show you that whoever runs this really cares about it. It’s not a faceless, nameless restaurant. Or, even worse, when it’s just someone who has some money and has decided they wanna open a restaurant. Someone has poured their love into this. This is not an investor that lives a thousand miles away.

EMILY: Andi discovered Think Greek on a road trip to visit her in-laws. When she entered the restaurant doors, she instantly noticed the familial vibe and enthusiasm for connecting with customers. But she’d also been promised great food by Yelp reviews. Think Greek didn’t disappoint. 

ANDI: What stood out to me about the salad was the size of it. It was large. It was a salad that, if I could have, I would’ve kept part of it to eat later. But I was on the road so I didn’t. The size was great, but size is not all that matters. I loved that it was packed with feta cheese. I loved that the dolmades were really well-made, those stuffed grape leaves.

But the star of this salad for me was the falafel. It is oh-too-common for me to go somewhere that has falafels and they are dry, burnt beyond belief. They’re just incredibly dry. So it was really cool, first of all, to smell these falafels. They had a really great, robust scent. And then on top of that, when you bit into them, they had moisture to them. They were clearly freshly fried, but they were not greasy. And I’ve eaten a lot of falafels. So the star of the salad was definitely the falafel. 

And what I will say is that I order a lot of salads and some of them are a little bit sad. And so I do think that there is an art to making a great salad and even a Greek salad, which is something that’s tried and true, done a million times. You can get them at most Mediterranean restaurants, Greek restaurants, et cetera. There is a big difference on the Greek salads that you can get around Florida. And this was definitely one of the best ones. 

EMILY: Andi is well aware of the potential pitfalls of the dishes she tried. But Think Greek overcame them. As with their physical location, so much thought and care are put into the food at the restaurant. The recipes contain personal history and cultural relevance, giving the food with even more meaning. 

ROSANNE: A Mediterranean diet is always based on healthy foods and fresh vegetables and foods that’ll fill you up, but still not make you feel weighed down. So we like to take the idea of the Mediterranean – I don’t wanna say diet – but the way people in the Mediterranean eat with the fresh, the crispness, the lightness, and bring it to our restaurant. This is how we grew up eating. Our recipes are handed down. Our marinades are handed down. 

The spanakopita: funny story. The owner’s mom wanted her, when she was little, to eat more vegetables. And to do that, she would make spinach pie, spanakopita. But some people make spinach pie and they put other greens in it and it’s bitter and it’s not something that a child would find appetizing or want to eat. So she made up her own recipe. And she loaded it up with cheese and made it cheesy and delicious and something that a child would want and get vegetables into her diet.

A lot of these recipes come from… Easter is a big holiday in Greek culture. Doing Greek Easter, you’re in the kitchen. You know, your dad is outside, roasting lamb on the spit. And your mom and the aunts, and if you’re lucky enough to have your grandmothers still, there are yayas inside doing the horiatiki, which is a traditional Greek salad. There is a difference between a Greek American salad and a horiatiki. Or making a spanakopita for some appetizer. 

It’s all about love and it’s all about family and it’s all about togetherness. When you come into the restaurant, that’s what we want. We have an extensive gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian menu because we know that everyone has friends or family that choose or cannot eat a certain type of food. And instead of just giving them one option – you know, our base is traditional Greek food – but because we’re Greek American, we are able to come up with new and exciting ideas to fit everybody’s palette.

EMILY: In addition to the classic dishes that Think Greek serves, they experiment with fusion dishes. One is award-winning. 

ROSANNE: In 2020, we participated in our first “Food Network Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Fest” in Miami Beach, Florida.

We went with one of our Greek American twists, the gyropitakia, which is a Greek wonton. We came up with this Greek wonton in 2016 on our food truck. We wanted something that someone can just pick up, dip, and walk around food truck events. So we created this Greek wonton and we do have trademarks out and everything like that. We’re trying to get everything together. 

So we brought that to 2020 “Food Network Cooking Channel’s South Beach Wine and Food Fest.” And there was a contest, Yelp’s Best Bite on the Beach, where people who tasted all the foods – now mind you, we are from Port St. Lucie, Florida. We are alongside Miami chefs that have recognition from the city and Fort Lauderdale and Key West. We’re from a random place in Florida. And we were going up against all these big restaurants. 2020, our first year, we won Yelp’s Best Bite on the Beach. 

Then Covid happened. 2021: we weren’t able to go back because of all the restrictions and everything like that. We weren’t able to make it happen. 2022: we went back, we won again.

That is something that we are so, so, so, so proud of. Because it’s something that we created. It’s something that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s something that we took our heritage and then mixed it up and made something that is familiar because, you know, you get wontons and they’re stuffed with cheese and crab meat and everything like that. And it’s familiar to people. So when they see the little triangles that we make, they’re like, “Oh, that’s like, that’s like a crab rangoon. Let me try that.”

And it’s cheesy and it’s tangy and it has the lamb beef blend, gyro meat that everyone knows. And it’s a perfect little bite. You dip it in our homemade tzatziki sauce and it’s just a little perfect appetizer. Perfect shareable.

We are so super proud. We went up against some heavy hitters and some really great food. We were able to bring it home, not once, but twice. And we were continually invited back. That’s another thing that we’re proud of, that we have such a good relationship with the organizers that they actually invited us back after 2020. 

EMILY: Think Greek has competed against high-profile restaurants and come out on top. The pride they take in everything they do is undeniable. All that hard work and emotional investment can make critical feedback tough to take, though. 

ROSANNE: You can’t please everyone. Some people like the food, some people don’t. But I will always say there are two sides to every story. Always. I do look at the reviews and when it’s negative it is hard because you’re saying that my grandmother’s soup is disgusting. Or you’re saying that you are not used to these seasonings. Okay. But those are the seasonings that we use and we accommodate everyone when it’s brought to our attention. “Hey, I don’t want oregano. Hey, I don’t want this.” But it needs to be brought to our attention. We try our best to put our best foot forward.

And like I said, not everybody is pleased. And that’s okay. But since these are family recipes, it does hurt. I’m gonna tell you the truth. It does hurt. Since we put a lot of thought and effort and time. Scratch-made recipes are time. They’re very time-taking. You spend a lot of time making these recipes and making sure everything is correct. And sometimes it is a little discouraging.

But we have great customers and we do get really good reviews. We do appreciate them. I do look at them. I answer them back, sometimes in batches and then sometimes I do it right away. But when someone says they enjoy your food, it gives us purpose. It makes us wanna go another day and all the hard work has paid off because that’s what we wanna do. Our goal was to bring our family recipes, to bring some of our culture, some of our knowledge, to people who have never met a Greek person or known anything about the culture. 

On our Facebook or Instagram, we like to, when we’re doing traditions – you know, cutting the New Year’s bread, the vasilopita – we put the meaning of that on our Facebook and Instagram. It’s really nice when someone enjoys, and lets us know that they enjoy, on our reviews. It really does make us really happy.

EMILY: Criticism isn’t easy to face, but Rosanne still makes it a point to read and respond to reviews. And with that comes the upside: she gets to hear from happy customers who have been exposed to the culture that she’s passionate about sharing. It’s important to remember that many customers are rooting for you and your business. And they love to amplify the positives. 

ANDI: I review a lot of places. I’m an elite Yelper. I love to be part of the Yelp Elite squad. So I love to sing the praises of great local businesses. Usually when I might take a step back and hold off on a review is if I’ve had a bad experience because some businesses just have an off day.

And so I’m always down to give a business another chance. But if it’s a positive experience, I’m pretty much always going to leave a review of it. I have a certain way that I start my reviews. I start every review with the number of stars and the too-long-didn’t-read little pro tip of what people should know. Because I don’t know if some people scrolling on the app are actually gonna extend and see my entire review. I’m also a little bit wordy. And so I think having that little pro tip at the top is good. 

Then when you talk about staff, it’s unbelievable how an okay place, in terms of food, can have incredible staff and it makes it a five star business for me. And then the alternative is also true where I’ve been to places that the food is absolutely remarkable and they have staff that clearly don’t wanna be there or are unhappy. And that comes through for sure. And that can really impact an experience. So I think adding something about the staff. 

Another thing that I always wanna do is, if I have a great staff interaction, if I’m able to get their name, I will shout them out. Because there are a lot of businesses that know the value of a Yelp review for getting people in the door – like Think Greek, I never would’ve found this place. A lot of those businesses, when they see a certain employee mentioned in a positive light, they will give props to that employee. They will shout them out in a team meeting or something like that. So I definitely believe in positive reinforcement and giving love to whomever I can give.

EMILY: Andi is all about second chances and giving props to phenomenal employees. She takes her reviews seriously because she uses reviews herself to discover new spots to eat. And because she understands the importance of reviews, she often includes feedback. Reviewers are resources. They may open your eyes to aspects of your business that you haven’t yet considered. 

ANDI: I write every review as if I am talking to the business owner directly. Even if it’s a review that there is something that I have to say that might be feedback that’s a little more critical. This review didn’t have that necessarily, like a critical angle to it. But even when I do have a bad experience, I’m always writing it like I’m writing directly to the business owner because most times – you can see at the bottom of this review that the business manager had sent me a thanks for their review – they are reading these reviews.

So that’s my personal philosophy on how I should be giving feedback. Then in addition to that, we had this amazing pita and this incredible hummus that was chunky and clearly homemade. But the eating experience is a little bit difficult and kind of ended wanting. We wanted to spread the hummus throughout, and it was a little bit awkward. So I believe in giving feedback. I believe in giving it with love and with the idea that they can take it or they can leave it. 

But I have friends who are business owners. I know business owners. My dad was a business owner growing up. And when he would hear feedback about something from his customers, oftentimes he would implement it. And I remember him telling me things, like, a lot of business owners have to pay for a group to come in and give them all of this information about what they should change about their business processes or what they should change about their menu items. Like a focus group type thing.

And in this case, we can give that feedback for free. And again, if they take it great. If they don’t take it, that’s fine. I’m gonna give it with love. But I gave it five stars because ultimately it was a beautiful little oasis in a sea of a lot of crummy chain restaurants. And we left feeling so good about it, and just excited about finding a hidden gem, is what it felt like. In the end, I left with a huge smile. I would definitely return. And to me, that’s a five star experience.

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