OPA Restaurant owner reflects on first year of business

Located on Main Street in the heart of downtown Waterville, OPA has become a local staple since opening its doors approximately one year ago. The Echo met with owner Sotirios Gudis to reflect on the restaurant’s successes, challenges, and contributions to the community since then. 

A longtime Waterville resident, Gudis’s family has owned restaurants in the area for many years, inspiring him to open his own as “it was just nice to be back home and try to do something like that.” Waterville itself holds a unique set of benefits and challenges for a business that can be difficult to navigate. 

Gudis described the recent “saturation of restaurants” in an area with “not enough people to eat at them.” His restaurant required a large investment, one that he is dedicated to making a return on. Part of that has been forging a relationship with Colby and hosting local events in his restaurant. 

OPA presents itself as a “blend of traditional Greek cuisine and Mediterranean dishes as well as a fusion of American cuisine,” offering a worldly dining experience for its central Maine customers. This variety allows for the restaurant to cater to a diversity of tastes, using “other styles of cooking as well, which are very similar, just from Greece to Italy” as well as “a lot of Israeli stuff with spices and herbs.”

To contribute to the authentic Greek and Mediterranean experience, Gudis relies on imports from the regions he pays homage to: “our oil, olives, feta cheese…our source is Greek so we bring in Misko, a brand that we use which produces pasta. We use Dodoni’s which is a feta cheese company.” 

Such outsourcing is one of the challenges that face restaurants, however, as a push for local food has gained momentum in the past few years. Gudis balances the needs of his customers by turning to local sources when he can, using a company based in Westbrook called Native Maine for produce and working with a variety of meat suppliers throughout the year.

In its first year, it is clear that OPA has looked to its customers to help it take shape. This is evident in the way the menu has changed since the restaurant’s opening: “We’ve added vegan/vegetarian options, a lot more, for Colby students who have come in and are cautious of that. We’ve adapted to provide that need and benefit people like that who are watching, for whatever reasons they are, whether it’s a dairy allergy…gluten [free] options as well.” 

All of these indications are clearly marked on the menu for the consumer’s consideration, a touch that anyone with a dietary restriction can appreciate. 

Additionally, Gudis recently sought a Facade and Building Improvement grant from the Central Maine Growth Council, which he put towards adding a second exterior door to OPA’s entrance. This may seem like a small change, but it makes a world of difference in the temperature of the restaurant and, therefore, the overall dining experience. 

Gudis explained that “with the new building across the street, the dynamics of Main Street have changed so it’s a wind tunnel in some parts, so when that door would open there would be a negative suction coming in. I added that second door…so it causes a trap for the air not to freeze people there in the first couple of tables.”

When asked about his choice of name for the restaurant, Gudis was quick to answer. To him, OPA is a “universal word” for celebration in Greek culture. This was what OPA was meant to be: “a place you can come in and celebrate, dinner with friends, or just have a good time.”