Showmars has come a long way since its humble beginnings in Matthews.
An ad in the Charlotte Observer from 1982, the year George Couchell opened the first Showmars on Independence Boulevard, boasted “the best burger in town” — a pita burger — for $1.89. Now, the local chain is transitioning to its third CEO, a tech-savvy and healthy-minded restaurant industry veteran who is charged with growing the brand but keeping it true to its roots.
This week, Showmars is announcing that Dean Peroulas, 50, will take charge of the 31-location restaurant chain. Peroulas is taking over for Konstantine Zitsos, the chain’s CEO since 2009 who hired Peroulas from his family’s restaurant in Roanoke, Va., in the mid-1990s.
In an interview with the Observer this week, Couchell and Zitsos lauded Peroulas’ youthful energy and creativity. Peroulas, for instance, helped lead Showmars through a recent re-branding that included a new slogan — “Southern. Fresh. Greek” — and the renovation of all its restaurants.
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“The thing I’m so proud of is Dean will preserve what brought us here,” said Couchell, 79. He added that that includes fresh ingredients and high-quality service. But Couchell, who along with Zitsos will remain at Showmars as operating partners, acknowledges the need for change in an industry as competitive as restaurants.
The chain has ramped up its social media presence in recent months, for instance.
Over the years, Peroulas has also spearheaded technology upgrades for the chain — including transitioning its digital operations into a completely cloud-based system — as well as menu changes, many of which were driven by increasingly health-conscious customers.
Showmars now offers, for instance, a vegan “beyond burger” made with peas and beet juice. Newer menu items contain “clean” ingredients such as chemical-free dressings and sustainably sourced fish.
“It’s been an evolution from the very beginning,” Peroulas said. “We’ve been about customer service. We’ve been about quality food and overall value. That’s something that hasn’t changed. What has changed is trends.”
When Couchell, a first-generation Greek immigrant, first created the Showmars menu, the restaurant served breakfast, lunch and dinner. It offered everything from subs to pancakes to apple cobbler. Couchell eventually pared down the menu to the best-selling items.
Today, Showmars executives see the menu as still evolving, and the nimbleness helps the chain keep up with customer demands.
Couchell has said repeatedly over the last 36 years that Showmars, a neutral name he picked because the restaurant was neither fully Greek nor fully Southern, “fills a void” between fast food and full-service restaurants. The prices are on par with what you’d see at a fast-food restaurant like Burger King (Showmars’ classic burger is $3.99, for instance) but employees bring orders straight to your table.
In growing the brand, Showmars is planning to expand its base in the Carolinas. The company opened its first store in the Triangle recently in Wake Forest. Other locations are planned in Kannapolis and Raleigh.
Peroulas said, “We’d love to” grow beyond North and South Carolina, such as into Atlanta and other parts of Georgia.
“We will look to expand but also want to pay attention to our core values to make sure that the quality of our product is intact,” Peroulas said. “We’ll continue to grow with the focus of making sure we stay true to who we are.”
Showmars is the latest restaurant chain to take root in Charlotte but expand into other markets. Bojangles’ has done that, as have others like Salsarita’s, Bad Daddy’s and Famous Toastery.
But you likely won’t see Showmars jumping into new states outside the Southeast like Bojangles’ has done in recent years, or becoming a national chain like Bad Daddy’s is now.
“Our success is due in part to people recognizing our brand,” Peroulas said. Zitsos, the outgoing CEO, estimates that nearly half of first customers of the new Wake Forest location were already familiar with the name.