Steak, service and satisfying sips: How Caesar’s Steak House continues to prosper 50 years later

It’s a restaurant interior you don’t expect to see in 2022: red and gold carpets, wood-panelled walls, immaculate chandeliers and Grecian-style pillars. 

But it’s an esthetic Caesar’s Steak House has stood by for the past 50 years.

Even its open flame grill  — on display in the centre of the main dining room — looks like a gold-plated chalice.

“We’ve always felt that the quality of not just the experience but also the quality of the food that we source … and the preparation of the steak, for us, that consistency has always been key,” said Connie Giannoulis-Stuart, daughter of one of the restaurant’s founders, Gus Giannoulis, in an interview on The Homestretch.

“It gives you that warmth that you don’t see very often anymore in many of the dining experiences … it makes you feel very nostalgic and want to celebrate.”

And indeed, a celebration is in order. Caesar’s Steak House on Fourth Avenue S.W. is marking its 50th anniversary this spring.

Gus Giannoulis, left, sits next to his daughter, Connie Giannoulis-Stuart, and her husband, Gerry Stuart. (Riverwood Photography)

Giannoulis-Stuart credits her father’s resiliency for the restaurant’s success. At 81 years old, he’s still at the steakhouse every morning, running through his routines, with no plans to retire.

“This is his passion and his baby. He loves it,” Giannoulis-Stuart said.

“When I look at my father and I ask him what he thinks, he’s like, ‘I never thought we’d even be here.'”

Humble beginnings

Con (Gus) Giannoulis came to Canada from Greece at 17 years old with just $26 in his pocket.

While working in the service industry, he met three other Greek immigrants, and they decided they’d start their own restaurant together.

After buying an old print shop in the city’s southwest, they got to work, opening a 180-seat dining room and 70-seat lounge on April 26, 1972.

Gus Giannoulis and his wife, Mando, stand next to the restaurant’s open flame grill in this vintage photo. (Submitted by Bob Sumner )

Although the interior still looks much the same as it did then, the menu has changed, according to Giannoulis-Stuart’s husband, Gerry Stuart. They both became partners in the restaurant in 2005.

In the early days, the restaurant worked off a fixed menu: caramelized onion soup with parmesan crouton, mixed green salad with dressing of choice and a cheese and garlic toast.

That last item has stood the test of time.

“We would have a riot on our hands if we stopped the cheese toast,” said Stuart with a laugh.

“The sad thing is we still get customers to this day that miss that old fixed menu, but guests wanted the opportunity to design their own menu and we started a process, a gradual one … to bring along an elevated dining experience.”

The bar at Caesar’s Steak House has served up many classic Caesar cocktails, which originated in Calgary. (Submitted by Bob Sumner)

The highballs and beers have also decreased, with a more sophisticated wine list taking their place.

The craft cocktails remain, something the restaurant has prioritized since opening. It even had a hand in the frenzy over the now widely known Caesar cocktail, which, in case you didn’t know, was invented in Calgary.

“People would come in for lunch and they had so much popularity for this drink, they would have all the cocktails lined up on the bar and the guests would just come in, pick up their cocktail and head to their table,” Giannoulis-Stuart said.

But the key focus of Caesar’s Steak House has always been, of course, the steak.

“It’s still a professional service. It’s still the same focus on Alberta beef,” Stuart said. 

The palatial look of Caesar’s has remained constant over the years, something the restaurant takes pride in. (Submitted by Bob Sumner )

Like any other business in the service industry, the restaurant has seen its share of lows. It has pushed through bouts of mad cow disease, several recessions and a global pandemic.

But despite it all, it continues to thrive, even adding a second location in Willow Park Village in the city’s southeast.

As part of anniversary celebrations, customers are sharing stories of their experiences at the restaurant on its social media pages. From birthdays to holidays, to dates and business deals, many Calgarians have made life-long memories while at Caesar’s white linen-covered tables.

As for what’s next, Giannoulis-Stuart hopes it’s more of that.

“We truly have been honoured and privileged for all these years to be a place for many families, businesses and generations to celebrate, and we want to continue to be that place … for generations to come.”

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