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Ex-Beef O'Brady's president invests in new chain

A familiar face will lead the effort as Little Greek Restaurant tries to make gyros more mainstream in fast-casual dining.

Ex-Beef O'Brady's president invests in new chain

TAMPA -- A familiar face will lead the effort as Little Greek Restaurant tries to make gyros more mainstream in fast-casual dining.

Nick Vojnovic, the former president of Beef O'Brady's' parent company, has bought a majority stake in the small Little Greek restaurant chain. So far, it has three locations in Pinellas and Pasco counties and one in Texas and serves gyros, wraps, Greek salads in the fast-casual style, typified by Panera Bread.

Greek food may not be your everyday quick meal, but Vojnovic said he thinks there's room for something Mediterranean among the burger and burrito chains. Already, a competing chain of Greek restaurants called Louis Pappas Market Café operates in the Tampa Bay area.

"It's definitely a niche," said Vojnovic, 51. "If you look at it, Italian is a big segment, Chinese is a big segment. But people get burned out. They want to try different foods."

Vojnovic was the face of Beef O'Brady's for years and was known as an easygoing business leader, so talkative his speeches would run long. He left Beef O'Brady's' parent, Family Sports Concepts, in June after a private-equity firm bought the restaurant chain and appointed a new chief executive. Since then, he has been pursuing an executive MBA at the University of South Florida.

Vojnovic recently put down $40,000 to buy into Little Greek, which is a concept started by Estonian immigrant Sigrid Bratic. Last week, Bratic said she had been looking to expand her business and met Vojnovic through a franchise industry consultant.

"At first, I thought, gosh, he speaks fast. I tried to keep up with him," Bratic said.

She bought a small Greek restaurant in Palm Harbor called Happy Greek seven years ago and eventually changed its name to Little Greek. Over the years, she sold two franchises and expanded into Clearwater, New Port Richey and Richardson, Texas.

Now paired up with Vojnovic, the two will try expanding Little Greek around the Tampa Bay area and Orlando. They have their eyes on three new sites on Dale Mabry Highway and Fowler Avenue in Tampa and on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg, Vojnovic said.

Like they do at other fast-casual spots, customers will order at a counter, but an employee will run out food to their tables. Most of the dishes range from $5.99 to $8.99.

Vojnovic said he has missed the restaurant industry since stepping away from Family Sports Concepts last summer. He looked at investing in perhaps 100 concepts but chose Little Greek because it offered healthier food in the emerging fast-casual dining segment.

His non-compete agreement with Family Sports Concepts prevented him from going into the casual dining industry.

Eventually, Bratic envisions Little Greek competing for business along interstate highways.

"I would like to see people say, 'Let's go to the exit where there's a Little Greek,'" she said.

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