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Ladue High School's student news site

Ladue Publications

Ladue High School's student news site

Ladue Publications

Go, Gyro, Go!

Diving into Orzo Mediterranean Grill origin story and what they are today
Mac Huffman
Beef and lamb gyro sits on table at Orzo Mediterranean Grill. The vegetables and meat are made fresh each day. “[My favorite things to make on the menu] are some of the bowls, the salad or the soup,” restaurant owner Nick Cowlen Sr. said.
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Late nights after long days cooking on the grill. To the left, a calculator, to the right, piles of food supply receipts, employment papers and rent releases. An employee didn’t show up for their shift, now the restaurant is crowded and the impatience of customers starts to nag. The weight of ever-increasing costs lies deep into the struggles of running a restaurant.

Former GoGyroGo food truck owner and current owner of Orzo Mediterranean Grill, Nick Cowlen Sr. has faced the perpetual challenges and obstacles of being self-employed. 

Juggling being a father and a husband during the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenge of running a restaurant was exacerbated by the lack of customers and rising inflation. 

“You take a business that’s already very difficult, even under the best of circumstances, and [it] makes it impossible,” Cowlen Sr. said.

Cowlen Sr.’s restaurant Orzo Mediterranean opened approximately six weeks before the pandemic began and was forced to close for an additional 3 months until June 2020. 

“Our sales were growing weekly for [those] six weeks. [It was] exponential and we were ramping up so fast and then COVID hit,” Cowlen said. “The last day before we shut down, our sales on Saturday were 50 bucks and it was freaky. I think we would have been where we [are] today within a few months back then.”

Before greek fries and gyros, Cowlen Sr. was more familiar with the real estate and the house-purchasing industry.

“We were in real estate and apartment buildings, but back in the time that was exclusively how I made a living,” Cowlen Sr. said. “In 2008, during the financial crisis it sort of fell on the sidelines. I had to think of something else to do to get supplemental income.”

Prior to Cowlen Sr.’s opening of his stationary restaurant, he ran a mobile food truck under the name GoGyroGo for nine years.  However, Cowlen Sr. foresaw a few problems with the constantly traveling truck.

“It’s more challenging because every day you have to scout locations and there’s just a lot of logistics [and] a lot of things that can go wrong. Trucks break, equipment breaks, I’d rather have the customers come to me,” Cowlen Sr. said.

Cowlen Sr. is not new to the food industry whatsoever. At 14, he helped manage his father’s catering business for weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and office parties. Cowlen Sr. wanted to prove to himself that he was capable of running and owning his own restaurant after seeing what his father did as a kid. 

“Having seen my dad work as hard as he did and the hours he put in, I thought that I would never get into the restaurant business,” Cowlen Sr. said. “For me, it was a personal challenge. I just love food and I love cooking and I love seeing people satisfied.”

Cowlen Sr.’s son, Nick Cowlen Jr. (12) understands the ethnic pride that goes into owning a restaurant, especially a Mediterranean one. 

“Both sides of my family are Greek,” Cowlen Jr. said. “Mediterranean and Greek food is kind of what we know.” 

Part of the inspiration Cowlen Sr. got for the restaurant came from traveling to Texas. He was trying to figure out the logistics for Orzo. He eventually settled on having signature dishes along with build-your-own entrees. They serve food with a Chipotle-like ordering style with non-customizable dishes also being available. 

“I went to Dallas [and] San Antonio to all these Mediterranean chains to kind of get ideas,” Cowlen Sr. said. “The thing that was best about that, was that I discovered what not to do more than what to do.”

Orzo feeds people everyday and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.  “I’m considering opening a second [and] possibly third location, so that will be the next step,”  Cowlen Sr. said. “I wanna make sure I have this one running like a well oiled machine before I expand.” 

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About the Contributors
Will Kodner
Will Kodner, Staff
Junior Will Kodner is a staffer for Panorama. This is his first year on Panorama. Apart from Panorama, Will likes to play saxophone and build Lego.
Mac Huffman
Mac Huffman, ID Editor in Chief
Chronic mispeller, usually outdoors, photo obsessed and founding ID Editor in Chief. When Mac's not editing, they're typically designing infographics or writing stories about identity, food and harm reduction. This is their 3rd year and final year on publications staff.
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