Gelastopoulos came to the U.S. from Greece — he grew up in a small village at the foot of Mount Olympus — in 1977. He was just out of high school, spoke no English and had no marketable skills to speak of. He enrolled in City College and began working as a dishwasher to make ends meet. Thirty-five years later, he is at the held of a rapidly expanding franchise of popular restaurants with no end in sight to the growth of his business.
After years working his way through several San Diego kitchens — as a dishwasher, cook and sous chef in every type of establishment from Denny’s to the Harbor House — Gelastopoulos, who also earned a real estate license along the way, bought the Broken Yolk in 1993. Coming off of years working nights in the kitchen and days in a real estate office, he was ready for a schedule change.
“I really liked the concept, the fact that it was open for breakfast and lunch and closed at 3 p.m.,” he said. “For years, I never saw the sun go down, never had my evenings free.”
Gelastopoulos quickly made the business venture a family affair. His wife worked with him — and still does, keeping the books — and his first-born daughter started standing in as a hostess when she was 12. The business, meanwhile, already a popular Pacific Beach eatery, only did better under Gelastopoulos’ watch. The original restaurant, which seated about 80 diners in its 3,000 square feet, was expanded in 1999 when Gelastopoulos acquired the property next door. It now serves about 300 people and encompasses more than 7,000 square feet.
The growth didn’t stop there. After years of hearing requests to franchise from regular patrons, some who traveled from well outside of the county for breakfast, Gelastopoulos finally gave in.
“So many people had approached me over the years asking me to franchise,” he said. “Finally, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Gelastopoulos helped a friend open the first franchise in Eastlake in 2007. It took off immediately, so he helped another friend open La Costa in 2008. That was followed by the Gaslamp location in 2009 and San Marcos in 2010. Oceanside, Point Loma, Carmel Mountain, Temecula, Mission Valley and Orange all followed shortly thereafter, and La Quinta and El Centro are on their way soon. The restaurants spread like wildfire over Southern California, and the blaze shows no signs of slowing. Another 11 are slated to open in Orange County over the next three years, and Gelastopoulos hopes to eventually take the brand out of the state.
One of the Broken Yolk’s main tenets holds that any regular diner should be able to step into any location and know exactly what they’re getting, and Gelastopoulos takes great pains to ensure that every branch adheres to the chain’s standards. Every detail, down to the trays on which the jelly rests, is overseen and regulated, and Gelastopoulos makes sure nothing is modified without his supervision. Wall color, tiling, booth and chair textiles — everything is established prior to the opening of a new location. There is a simple reason, Gelastopoulos said, behind the strict guidelines: they work. The success of the original location and its returning customer base is a testament to them.
“We’re here for one reason: the customer,” he said. “Customers tend to be outspoken. They like to tell us what they want. And if they want something different, we make it for them. We have to keep giving people what they want, and when someone walks into a Broken Yolk, we want it to be that same experience they loved at the PB location.”
Meanwhile, Gelastopoulos has maintained his family-run operation on Garnet Avenue. His wife still works in the upstairs offices, as do both of his daughters, Dimitra and Maria. Dimitra’s husband, James O’Rourke, is the restaurant’s director of operations and makes weekly trips to all the franchise locations to check on everything from food preparation and cleanliness to décor and atmosphere. The family operation gives the business the feeling of a tight-knit household. During an interview in his office, one of Gelastopoulos’ toddler grandsons insisted on checking in on his grandfather numerous times.
“What else can I ask for? I get to spend quality time with my family and run my business,” he said.
Gelastopoulos seems to have found that magic spot in the American economy where he got what he always wanted. An immigrant who grew up with no indoor plumbing or electricity finds his niche as a successful business owner in the most populous state in the country.
It may be that simple, he said, but it’s not that easy. The American Dream, it appears, is still there for the taking — for those who are willing to work for it.
“I was 17 when I came here. What did I know?” he said. “Everything was so developed, so exciting. Coming from nothing really makes you want to succeed. But you have to work hard, and some people don’t want to pay the price. People say there are a lot of opportunities when you come to a country like this, but you have to make those opportunities. I wasn’t the first to succeed and I won’t be the last. If you work hard, good things happen. It’s as simple as that.”
For more information about the Broken Yolk and its locations, visit thebrokenyolkcafe.com.