Everyone who buys breakfast at the Burg Diner finds a ripe yellow banana on the edge of their plate. “Mama,” explains owner Bill Georgiou, “is a huge influence on this place. She makes sure that you have a piece of fruit with your breakfast.”
In the Greek tradition, Georgiou’s mother, Maria, is everybody’s Mama. “During the summer,” he smiles, “you get watermelon.”
Bill Georgiou opened the Burg Diner, in the old Cuban Delight restaurant building at 49th Street and 30th Avenue North, three years ago as a companion to his other business, the Burg Bar & Grill.
Approaching its 10th anniversary in the trendy Grand Central District, the Burg Bar & Grill is a neighborhood beer joint (Georgiou thinks of it as having a Cheers, everybody-knows-your-name vibe). It features an eclectic menu of gourmet burgers, sandwiches and Greek food. A lot of Greek food.
The Burg – a narrow room with a traditional bar, and seating for 22 inside, and other 20 or so on the sidewalk – doesn’t look like a Greek restaurant. “I know,” Georgiou, 49, explains. “But I grew up in the diner business, and a diner has various kinds of food. We have soups in here. We have breakfast sandwiches. When I was a kid, all my family owned was Greek restaurants – all over the world. So this is kind of a bar/diner. Greek-owned.”
In the 1960s and ‘70s, the Georgiou family visited the Tampa Bay area regularly, as a sunny respite from the frozen tundra of Windsor, Ontario. They resided in Greece for a few years. In the early ‘80s, they moved the whole enterprise to Pinellas County.
The family’s first Floridian endeavor was a Seminole Boulevard restaurant called Grecian Gardens. Mama Maria prepared the food, based on family recipes, and everyone – young Bill included – waited tables and worked the kitchen.
After five years, they closed it down and relocated to St. Petersburg proper, opening what would become the first Maria’s Greek Family Restaurant, 4th Street at 54th Avenue, in 1986. Bill was a senior at Northeast High.
He studied business and history at the University of South Florida, and managed several locations of Maria’s Greek Family restaurant for 15 years.
In 2007, he closed the chain and took some time off. Two years later, he was back, looking for new worlds to conquer. “I wanted to be a businessman and do other stuff, but business came hand in hand with the restaurant business,” he says. “I love customers. I love feeding people.”
The defunct Cider House, 1752 Central, became the Burg Bar & Grill. On the diverse menu – alongside the Gyro Feta Burger, the All Day Breakfast Pita and Horiatiki Salad – the hungry will find Maria’s famous Greek salad and her homemade tzatziki.
“I like the fact that somebody can come in and find something to enjoy,” Georgiou explains. “Back to the diner-owner in me. In a diner you can get almost anything, any form of taste. I want to make sure you come in and there’s something here for you.”
It was the diner-owner in him that sent Georgiou looking for more, a restaurant similar to those where he’d absorbed the business. “I was ready to expand and do something else,” he says. “But I had to go somewhere other than downtown. And somewhere there weren’t a lot of restaurants. As much development.”
(Indeed, across Central from the Burg Bar & Grill, the massive condo-and-retail building Slocum Place is now under construction. Georgiou is not happy with the view.)
In 2015, the former site of the Cuban Delight Café on 49th Street became available. “I knew the owners – we came to terms and here we are.”
The Burg Diner (seating capacity 49) menu is more meat-and-potatoes than its downtown counterpart, with an emphasis on breakfast plates (with banana, of course). Burgers are a big deal for the lunch crowd. Beer and wine are available (the diner is open until 9 p.m. every day but Saturday, when the doors are locked at 3).
There is, of course, a wide selection of Greek salads, appetizers and entrees, too, along with several blink-and-you’ll-miss-them nods to the building’s past: A Cuban Delight breakfast special (they have Cuban sandwiches, too) and another called the “Sandpiper,” named for the restaurant’s very first incarnation, in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Honoring tradition is important to Bill Georgiou, almost as important as his family. Mama Maria still works in the prep kitchen, and his sisters Nota and Joanna are servers. Georgiou’s wife Rebecca helps him run the business.
As for the future, Georgiou hints at further expansion, but won’t say anything more. In the meantime, he’s in his car seven days a week, dividing his time between the two restaurants. Wherever he is, he greets customers like family, and asks if they’re enjoying the meal.
Problems? What problems? Life is good, business is great. Like so many of proud Greek heritage, Bill Georgiou is something of an eternal optimist. “You just keep on going, right? Even if anything does happen, if there’s some little glitch, you just keep on going and you roll with it. You just got to roll with the punch, and get better.”