On the top floor of his brand new flagship restaurant, Lou Moshakos jumped at a chance to showcase the glass wall he could transform into a railing with a push of a button behind the bar.
“It’s his toy,” said his daughter, Amber Moshakos.
The technology, heat radiating floors and menus on tablets are some of the new special touches found at Carolina Ale House’s newest restaurant, which opened earlier this year at Glenwood South. Other established components of the concept include more than 70 televisions tuned to different games, 99 bottled beer offerings (and almost as many on draft) and a kitchen that makes the pub’s food from scratch.
The space reflects the culmination of years of lessons and experiences of an aggressive Raleigh-based family business that oversees 25 Carolina Ale Houses across six states, seven other dining concepts in the Triangle and coastal North Carolina under hospitality management group LM Restaurants.
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“We’ve been busy,” said Lou, 69, of Cary, president of LM Restaurants. Other members of his executive team include his wife, Joy, 60, and his daughter Amber, 33, both vice presidents in the company.
Amber handles corporate affairs for LM Restaurants, while Lou focuses on future locations and construction projects.
Lou and Joy’s youngest daughter Chantal, 28, is LM Restaurants’ corporate affairs manager, and middle daughter Crystal, 30, also helps on the company’s special projects.
While the company, which now has about 2,500 employees, is no longer small, it started with one mom-and-pop operation run by Lou and Joy.
“I was in the kitchen, and he was shucking oysters and clams,” Joy said.
At 18, Lou emigrated from Greece to Canada, where he met and married Joy. The couple moved to Boca Raton, Fla. and bought in 1978 the Seafood Shanty, a nearly 50-seat mom-and-pop seafood restaurant in Deerfield Beach.
The couple went on to expand the original Seafood Shanty, open a second location, a steakhouse and a fine dining concept.
In the late 1980s, the Moshakos sold the restaurants, and eventually bought three Miami Subs, then a new, hot franchising concept.
The Moshakos decided they didn’t want to raise their three daughters in South Florida, so Lou scouted out the Southeast, looking for a growing community with good schools. He found what he was looking for in the Triangle and sold all but one of their Florida Miami Subs.
“Just in case things don’t work out here, we have something to go back to,” he said.
In 1992, he started construction on Miami Subs in Raleigh and moved his family to Cary. By 1996, the couple had built and acquired 10 Miami Subs across the state.
At the time, however, Lou said he had grown uneasy with the Miami Subs franchisor making cuts and changes to his items such as the top-selling Philly-cheese steak sandwiches.
“People, they are very smart,” Lou said. “You can’t cheat people and try to get away with not providing them true value.”
Sketching ideas on napkins
Every year, the family takes a monthlong trip to Moshakos’ native Greece. On the flight home during the summer of 1996, Lou discovered an idea that would transform the focus of his company.
During a layover at London Heathrow Airport, the girls and Joy went to McDonald’s to eat, and Lou went to the Shakespeare Ale House.
Before Lou left for Greece, he said, he had watched and was fascinated with a television program centered on how much time American people spend watching sports on TV on Sundays.
So when he entered the ale house, an idea started to take hold of him. By the time he saw Joy again, he was already working on his new venture.
“Here we go again,” Joy said she said at the time.
Lou sketched ideas on napkins, reached out to his real estate agent and bought a closed Chinese restaurant on Raleigh’s Creekside Drive.
The restaurant struggled at first, he said. No one understood the concept of an ale house, which made it difficult to draw people to what the Moshakos learned was a challenging location.
“We really suffered the first two years, to the point (where) we came very, very close to closing it,” Lou said. “My accountant and my wife both told me, ‘Take the losses and move on.’ ”
In early 2001, Lou opened a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon and drank all but a little as he wrestled with the conflict between his accountant’s advice and his gut feeling to keep the concept he believed in.
“It was a very, very difficult decision to make,” said Lou, who still has the bottle.
Adding a second location
Sustaining the first ale house with Miami Subs profits, he changed the name from Raleigh Ale House to Carolina Ale House and in 2002 opened a second location on Walnut Street in Cary to an immediate success that helped push the Raleigh location to profitability.
“We knew we had the right concept; we just needed the right location,” Lou said.
Over the years, the family has concentrated on opening company-owned holdings within North Carolina and Tennessee but have worked with others to expand Carolina Ale House into five other states.
In 2005, Carolina Ale House expanded into south Florida through a joint venture between Lou and longtime friend Joe Marouf, who bought Lou’s last Miami Subs in Florida. The venture now owns three ale houses in that area.
Seven Carolina Ale Houses popped up in South Carolina, Georgia and Texas after Lou and Joy granted a Carolina Ale House license to Chris Sullivan, who used to frequent the Durham location.
Over the years, the family has also diversified its revenue by acquiring a company that owns five restaurants, including Bluewater in Wrightsville Beach, in southern coastal North Carolina.
The family eventually sold most of the Miami Subs but transformed one into New Bern Subs, which is still open, and three into Papa Lou’s, a fast-casual burger joint that they later closed to concentrate on their acquisitions in the Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach area.
Meanwhile, the family continued its annual visit to Greece, and brought back olive oil to use at home and share with friends. That evolved into them founding Flying Olive Farms, a company that imports Greek specialty products, such as Vrisi 36 extra virgin olive oil, which is sold at Whole Foods Markets in Cary and Raleigh.
Still, Lou said, the best is yet to come.
While LM Restaurants plans to open Carolina Ale Houses in Chapel Hill and Garner (and Sullivan plans to open one in Charleston) in 2015, it also is working to relocate its Greek restaurant Taverna Agora to Raleigh’s downtown.
LM Restaurants will also introduce some new concepts, including a brewery in the Wilmington area, and a small plates Mediterranean restaurant on the first floor of the Glenwood Avenue building that houses Carolina Ale House and a banquet space on the second floor.
Before they opened the new Glenwood South flagship location, the family had to say goodbye to the first spot, which they closed at the end of the year.
On New Year’s Eve, the Moshakos started with a party at the Creekside Drive location, then moved to the almost finished construction site.
“It was like saying goodbye to the old and hello to the new,” Joy said.