Little Billy has travelled a long way since 1975.
Little Billy's Steakhouse, located at 6785 East Hastings St. in North Burnaby, is where you'll find owners Harry and Irma Paskalidis now, but go back almost four decades and you realize that the Paskalidis family is well-known throughout the Lower Mainland.
Harry opened his first restaurant, Little Billy's Steak and Lobster, at Nanaimo and Second streets in Vancouver in 1975, alongside brothers Paul, Mike and Billy. As the restaurant brand expanded to 10 locations throughout the Lower Mainland - Burnaby residents will remember the Edmonds location that operated for 15 years until the early-'90s - Harry and family stayed intimately involved in most aspects of the operation.
In 1990, Harry and Irma opened their showcase location, Little Billy's Hideaway, just off the Barnet Highway in North Burnaby, and that was where they expected to retire.
But in March 2007, a fire levelled the Hideaway and the Paskalidis family faced the decision of whether to reopen or retire.
"We weren't going to retire," said Irma. "There were so many people who knew us from Vancouver, from Edmonds and from the Hideaway that we knew we had to reopen again."
After scouting for locations throughout the city, the family decided that it had to remain in North Burnaby. When they secured their East Hastings location, they had son Billy design the interior, which comfortably seats 65 people.
"Billy had seen something similar in Los Angeles," said Harry, "and that's the design we've gone with."
Enter the restaurant and you can't miss the long table where big parties can be held. And if you want a little more privacy, smaller tables and the bar are also popular places to enjoy a good meal or a stiff drink.
On a recent summer Sunday, Harry and Irma sat down with myself and photographer Larry Wright to talk about what makes their business successful.
"I learned to cook at logging camps," said Harry. "I've just kept refining my dishes and that's what my customers keep asking for."
With "steakhouse" in the name, you know you'll have a wide variety of steak choices - including a 10-ounce rib eye for $28 or a 20-ounce chef's cut rib eye for $36 - but the signature dishes at Little Billy's are the hot seafood platter or the Greek platter.
The platters come out resembling a warship, with meat skewers pointing to the sky like sails.
Harry uses a baked potato as the base for which the skewers are anchored and the platter is both visually pleasing and tasty as well.
Advertised as a platter for four, the Greek platter features calamari, lamb chops, lamb, prawn, chicken and beef souvlaki skewers, paidakia, beeftteki, spinach pie, humus, tzatziki and the big daddy of them all, jumbo garlic prawns that comes a special "butter of love" dip. If that's not enough, the platter also comes with a traditional Greek salad, roasted potatoes, rice, vegetables and pita bread.
"You should see the looks on other diners faces when we bring that out to a table," said Harry. "Everybody wants to know what it is."
Harry advises us to start with the calamari - "You don't want it to get soggy," he says - and they're delectable. But the jumbo garlic prawns are calling me, and it's love at first bite after I dip it into the "butter of love."
As Larry and I methodically make our way through the protein, Harry can't help but marvel that the two of us are on the way to finishing the platter.
"I've seen three people do it, but for two, that's pretty good," said Harry, who admits that while he loves everything on the platter, he usually starts with the paidakia.
(In the interest of full disclosure, we don't finish off the potatoes, rice and pita bread, but everything else was gone once our server Greg came to clean up.)
The seafood platter is as impressive and features lobster tails, prawns, calamari, King crab legs, scallops and tzatziki. We'll have to try that the next time we go to Little Billy's.
As for the rest of the menu, Harry has dishes that evoke his Greek heritage, including rack of lamb, moussaka and spanakopita, along with dishes of a decidedly more Italian variety, including pasta and pizza.
Irma, originally from a small town just outside of Munich, Germany, is content to work the front room and leave the kitchen to her husband.
"This is what I love most about the business," she said as she sits down with a couple of longtime customers. "I love seeing my friends coming in for a meal. When Harry and I used to work seven days a week, we would see everybody. ... We've started taking a couple of days off each week and when we come back, people will ask us where we went. I tell them we need our time off too."
Getting Harry to let go has been made easier by the addition of German chef Andrea Jacobs, who is able to replicate Harry's exacting standards.
As for the future, Harry and Irma hope son Billy - along with grandson Little Billy - will continue the family restaurant tradition.
"What keeps people coming back is the cooking," he said. "Everything you put out, you have to be proud of and that's my standard. ... I want to show people that you don't have to go downtown to get a great meal, and that's why I think we're successful."
Little Billy's Steakhouse, located at 6785 East Hastings St. in North Burnaby, is open seven days a week. It's open for lunch and dinner from 10 a.m. on Tuesday to Friday and for dinner only from 4 p.m. on Saturday to Monday.
To make a reservation, call 604-294-4460. For more info, go to www.littlebillys.com.