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Let’s Eat: OPA!  How Apollo transformed (and inspired) the city’s vibrant food scene

We’re unveiling a new regular weekly feature today: Let’s Eat, a celebration of the Nickel City’s vibrant food scene
Fifty years ago, Apollo Restaurant on The Kingsway introduced Greater Sudbury to Greek cuisine, paving the way for the Nickel City’s vibrant food scene of 2020. Owner Toula Sakellaris (holding a bottle of Apollo's signature olive oil) and her late husband George blazed a trail by introducing Greek food to Sudbury. (Image: Hugh Kruzel)

Prepare for a buffet of stories on food.  

Over the next 49 weeks this column will focus on the Sudbury food scene: the people who run our restaurants, the menus, specific dishes, and above all, the diversity of choices and world of tastes and flavours right here in this city.

There is no doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on local restaurants, so we are celebrating the incredible chefs, restaurateurs and dishes that make our city so unique.

These are not restaurant reviews. It is about a vibrant Sudbury as colourful, inclusive and international as the flags on the Bridge of Nations.

It is appropriate for this first of 50 articles to focus on someone for whom 50 is a significant number.

Let’s turn back the clock. Not just one hour as we do each autumn. Instead, roll back time to 1970.

Few of us can remember The Kingsway as a two-lane road. Few can recall The Kingsway without the Apollo Restaurant. Yes, it has been part of the Sudbury food scene for 50 years.

In their early 20s George and Toula Sakellaris were a newly married couple. They came from small villages in Southern Greece and over the decades transformed what Sudbury eats, and how we eat.

“It was the fall of 1969.  We renovated the building for months,” Toula Sakellaris said. 

The place was a roaring success from the start as, unlike now, there were no donut shops on every corner. Truly, few places were as ideally situated.  

Every seat in every booth filled and refilled throughout the early morning. 

“The milk trucks, bus drivers, miners and managers, Hydro, Bell Canada, the Assessment Office staff, and it all started at 6 a.m. when the first customers came for a hearty breakfast on their way to or from work,” Sakallaris said. “Remember, back then there were 23,000 workers at INCO, and three shifts a day.”

Then, there was the coffee break.

“The same people would stop by mid-morning or even be with us for lunch. Originally, we had 75 seats; it wasn’t enough, so we expanded in the back. I opened each day, and my late husband closed at 2 a.m. It was hard work and I was only 21, and George just a little older.”

The evolution of the Apollo really is the next chapter of the story. Our progress to worldwide selection started here.

“No, there were no other restaurants serving Greek food. We were daring! Yes, the shank, the souvlakis, the moussaka, we brought those onto the menu slowly, very slowly! It has always been the Apollo, but the Greek cuisine came about little by little. 

“In 1970, no one even knew Greek salad, so it was about 1977 — one item at a time — we introduced new options and choices.”

And so, Greek cuisine became a feature and a fixture; something customers sought out. The Apollo has since become famous for its authentic homemade Greek dishes. Frequently ordered is the traditional pastitsio, or Greek lasagna — a perennial favourite, with its layers of pasta, cinnamon-laced beef, Kasseri cheese and soul-satisfying béchamel sauce. The potatoes with the lemon brightness elevated the common spud.

Toula points out this long-term relationship with Sudbury in a way that highlights the Apollo as part of the Sudbury social fabric.

“In 1970, we saw young couples come for french fries and holding hands, and then we saw them married with their children, and now we see these loyal clients with their grandchildren coming for casual dining or special family occasions.” 

Linen tablecloths still grace the tables.

Barb Ward, a long and loyal Apollo patron, offered up this testimonial.

“At the Apollo, we gather together for the events that mark our lives; where we say goodbye to those we’ve known, to grieve those we have lost (and) to welcome newcomers and new families into our fold. It’s a place where business is made and partnerships are formed. For 50 years, Toula has made a comfortable and inviting place that we think of as ‘always just right’.”

As much as her patrons appreciate the Apollo, Sakellaris appreciates their 50 years of patronage even more.

“We still have all the menus from over the years,” she said. “Toast was 5 cents or something like that back then. Bacon or sausages and scrambled eggs, and oh, those early morning starts! We still have some of the favourites from then, and with the popular lamb and our desserts people come back always. After 50 years, I still love what I do. I am very happy with the generosity of Sudbury. My clientele are all so beautiful!”

COVID-19 has sadly put many of Sakellaris’ 50th anniversary plans on hold. Don’t worry, she remains open and also has take-out, her on-site market, and her signature heritage olive oil for sale. 

Apollo has changed Sudbury, and Sudbury has embraced The Apollo.

Hugh Kruzel is a committed foodie and a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury.