Meet George the Gyro Master

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Little Athens Gyro Owner - George Ragehb

August 21, 1989
Source: Florida Flambeau

While some conservatives favor building fences around the United States to curb immigration, everyday success stories worthy of a Horatio Alger novel are making fence builders think otherwise. Drawn to the free market system, many immigrants employ an often-unseen entrepreneurial spirit. A perfect fit for America’s burgeoning service industry, their businesses provide not only a service, but a better life for their families.

The story of George and Janette Ragheb is no different.

After finishing his mandatory service in the Egyptian army in 1981, George Ragheb and wife Janette set out for America.

“It was my dream to come here for a better life,” remembers Ragheb. Who earned his degree in accounting before emigrating to the U.S. My love is numbers and keeping books, and I wanted to come here [to do] that.”

Hardship faced George Ragheb to temporarily abandon his dream of becoming an accountant. On his second day in the U.S., he took a job at a Greek restaurant in Manhattan and quickly learned what later became his calling card--making the perfect Gyro.

“Although I’m from Egypt,” Ragheb relates, “my culture’s food is similar to Greece’s, which allows me to make Mediterranean food the way it should be made.”

Four years later, George and Janette Ragheb relocated to Tallahassee along with George’s brother Mournir Ragheb, who is a professor of human services and studies at FSU. Combining George’s Love of accounting and his new-found culinary skills, the Ragheb’s opened Captain Pete’s House of Gyros.

Located between Mahan Drive and Park Avenue on Capital Circle Northeast, Captain Pete’s specializes in made-to-order Mediterranean cuisine for lunch, dinner and catered events. Available for eating or take-out Captain Pete’s is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 8:00 PM and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Operating a restaurant six days a week is hard work for George and Janette Ragheb, who, this year, took their first vacation since opening Captain Pete’s 14 years ago. George insists that long hours are the key to their culinary success.

“My wife and I love to work. Hard work is in our blood,” says Ragheb. “Although we don’t serve lunch until 11:00, we come in at 8:30 to cook for the people. We make sure everything is done right, that’s why people come back, for the personal touch.”

Captain Pete’s offers a full selection for the food connoisseur, serving mammoth-sized portions of salads, sandwiches, desserts, and vegetarian dishes. It is also home to a small, but eclectic, assortment of ethnic groceries, including various olive oils, hummus (chick pea dip), grape leaves, and Greek cookies.

Salad menu items include Chef Salad and Greek Country Salad, complete with feta cheese, olives and a twist--potato salad. The highlight of the salad menu is Antipasta, which includes hummus, baba ganoush (egg-plant dip served with pita), tabouli (Middle Eastern salad), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), tomatoes and cucumbers. The hummus is fresh and not over-seasoned, and the tabouli has a savory mint flavor. The dolmades, handmade by Janette Ragheb each morning, are tasty and add the perfect touch.

He obvious highlight of the sandwich menu is the Ragheb’s renowned gyro. Captain Pete’s serves up non-traditional gyro sandwiches made with chicken, ham, tuna , and meatballs. What keeps customers coming back, however, are the King Gyro and the Deluxe Gyro. Made with choice-cut lamb and served with tomatoes, red onion, and homemade tzaziki (yogurt-cucumber) sauce on freshly grilled pita, this house specialty pleases even the most discriminating palate.

“Since I opened 14 years ago, I have made about 225,000 gyros,” says George Ragheb. I know how to grill the bread. I don’t even have to measure my season[ings]. The only thing I measure is that I put my love in the cooking.

For the non-carnivorous diner, Captain Pete’s has an extensive meatless menu, featuring Vegetable Supreme with Feta Cheese, and Spinach Pastitsio (Greek lasagna). Both regulars and newcomers agree the Spanakopitta (spinach cheese pie) and Falafel (vegetable burger) are its best vegetarian selections, and for good reason. The Spanakopitta is warm and flaky, its spinach and feta filling is flavorful and of high quality. Although Falafel is typically made with a powdered mix, George Ragheb starts with plump fava beans, ground fresh each day. Rolled and fried to perfection, the falafel is a favorite among Captain Pete’s lunch crowd.

“I have the best Falafel in town. I don’t tell anyone [my] secrets,” boasts Ragheb. Captain Pete’s is sure to satisfy a sweet tooth with its delicious desserts; homemade by the Ragheb’s with authenticity. Among other items, Baklava, and Kataifi are the best of this side of Athens. The nut-and-honey laden Baklava is piled high among crispy layers of phyllo dough and is serves in portions twice the size of other restaurants. A similar dessert, Kataifi, is a delectable nut and honey pie surrounded by a shredded crust.

The large portions, low prices, high quality, and friendly service found at Captain Pete’s House of Gyros is an often-unparalleled combination in today’s marketplace. So what’s the Ragheb’s secret to maintaining high standards?

The secret is as American (and conservative) as apple pie: a strong family. While George and Janette cook each meal with care, sons Bishoy and Meena help provide the friendly, courteous service to their customers enjoy. The Ragheb family business not only provides a way of life in a new country, it allows them to spend quality time together-a time they clearly enjoy. From the home-cooked meals to the silk flowers neatly arranged on each immaculately clean table, the Ragheb’s seem to extend that strong family connection to their customers. In fact, George Ragheb recently nicked plans to expand Captain Pete’s to a second location, for fear of losing the personalized atmosphere.