Three generations fill this Greek Taverna with love that can be tasted in the from-scratch recipes and from the warmth of the staff. They are a very close knit family, and running the restaurant makes them even closer.

For over 27 years the Karamessinis family has owned and operated Sfinaki Greek Taverna in Burnaby Heights. This binding visitation between siblings and getting the chance to be so involved with each other, makes it all worth it. Dig into your moussaka let us tell you their story.



Originally from the southern Peloponnese region, the Karamessinis family are spread out across Greece: Athens, Zakynthos, Mykonos, Santorini. Once the Sfinaki family moved to Canada, the dad, Tom, dipped into the restaurant business since the late 1950s (with various partners). Leaving his last partnered business in the early 1990s, Tom looked to his immediate family: four children, his wife and himself, and said, “I want to open a restaurant that serves authentic Greek food only.” His other restaurants usually included popular items like pizza, pasta and steaks all mixed with some Greek food – a pub, lounge or steakhouse vibe. Tom was adamant to open doors to a true authentic Greek restaurant, the family was in it with him with a profound “Yes!”



Since 1995, Sfinaki has been solely owned and operated by the family – Tom and Pam Karamessinis and their kids: Eva, Niki, Bia and Denny. They took over an existing restaurant space, not Greek, that had been closed for a long time and gutted, designed and renovated it to evoke the feeling of Greece.


The three daughters (Eva, Niki and Bia) have day jobs and then work at the restaurant in the evening. Although the hours are long, there are business decisions to make constantly, it’s tiring work, even though it’s a restaurant setting and a work setting, they don’t take the opportunity to be so close to each other for granted.



Denny, the only son and the youngest of the siblings, works at the restaurant full time. He runs the kitchen and his sisters run the front of the restaurant: serving, managing the backend, hiring, managing the menu and ordering supplies.


Matriarch, “Pam” is heavily involved in the daily operations. She comes in the morning, manages all the kitchen prep for the day and leaves in the afternoon. Tom is also still involved, but now, at 85, he comes for his lunch and dinner, files paper work and does some business tasks and then leaves, trusting that his kids will continue the family legacy.



The older of the grandchildren (aged 13-15) have also become involved:  Bia has two boys, Eva has a boy and a girl, Niki has a daughter, and Denny has a boy and a girl.  They started hosting and bussing tables this past summer. A great opportunity to spend time together as cousins as well as earn “Starbucks and movie money.” They take payments, clear and set tables —  it’s teaching them a strong work ethic, what it means (and what it takes) to earn money and, most importantly, how to value and treat people well.



With the advent of the pandemic, they had to change things quite substantially. They renegotiated how they ordered, prepped and small-batched everything. They wanted to ensure their customers had the best quality food they had there in 25 years — the freshest, most traditional, providing a feeling like they were in Greece eating what the family loves to eat when they are there. A chance to feel like you might be somewhere else while locked in your apartment.


The family is so grateful that they were able to pull together to do what they had to do to stay open. They closed the dining room and shifted to an online delivery and takeout platform. The community were “beyond generous” to help this little family business stay open through and beyond the pandemic. They were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support.



Their recipes come from all over Greece and are inspired by what the family ate growing up. How Pam made her mousaka for the kids, that’s how they make it now for their customers. They have added some contemporary street food one would find in Greece today, such as Sfinaki Fries, with feta, oregano and ladolemono drizzle (a delicious lemony sauce) so you might feel like you’re grabbing food to go from a kiosk or takeout window or food truck. Street food has become very popular in Greece. Their handhelds like gyros, are popular here, too, and have signature touches, like adding fries into a gyro just like they do in Greece.


Pam is very particular about passing along her recipes for spanakopoita or mousaka or dolmathes. She is completely involved from beginning to the final seasoning.



Denny “tries to keep up with mom.” He fell into his role in the kitchen because during the summers when he was young and they had another restaurant in New Westminster, Denny wasn’t quite old enough to be left alone or to be together with his older sisters who are 3,4, and 7 years older than him. So he went to the restaurant to work with his mom. He wore an apron and helped do some pizzas and sauce and thought it was so cool to get messy in the kitchen. At home he found a balance between his love of playing sports in the backyard and pulling up a chair and mixing sauces in the kitchen with Pam. He got to do special things with his mom that not many young boys would perhaps want to do, nor appreciate, and he fell in love with the kitchen. He and his mom are best friends to this day and are lucky have such a deep bond.



Denny was 15 when they opened Sfinaki. He washed dishes and cleaned, he hosted and then he started to getting into the kitchen. Tom used to do some of the cooking, but as he stepped away, Denny came in to take his place. Dad said, “Make this food.” Denny said, “How?” and Dad said, “You’ll figure it out.” And boy, did he ever!



Regulars make up about half their clientele and come all the way from the Tri-Cities, the North Shore, East Vancouver, North and South Burnaby.

Since the pandemic and their implementation of the the small batch prep, they only prepare enough for the day to make sure they give the best quality to the customer everyday. Because of this, they sell out of their roast lamb and grilled calamari  quite often. They have become “While quantities last” for many items, so regulars will come in and say, “Do you have roast lamb tonight?” and when they hear, “Yes, we do” they order right away, sometimes even before the are seated. Sometimes they even call ahead and ask and to put one on hold if they are heading to the restaurant that night. There is an old-school Greek woman who orders a whole pot of soup every week. Another frequently orders a special long tray of spanakopita.



Sfinaki also does group catering for a lot of corporate offices, especially in Burnaby Heights. People who live in the area but work across town often want to introduce it to their workplace.  Recently, Sfinaki catered for 100 people at the Vancouver Police Department, they sure know the best place to go!


Aside from office catering, people do buyouts of the whole restaurant for big birthdays, christenings, baptisms, Christmas parties. They rent the whole space, are offered a set menu and they can bring in their own entertainment.



The family feels blessed to be in Burnaby Heights. When they opened there they were not very familiar with the area. They grew up in East Van, born and raised, down boundary a little bit west. When they found this spot, they began to learn about the Heights and its community. Three of them (Bia, Niki, and Denny) now live in the area, blocks away from the restaurant. The restaurant brought them to Burnaby Heights and now they live, work and raise their families there.


And while they source some of their specialty ingredients from Greece, such as certain spices, seasonings, beverages, they rely on a local produce supplier and shop in area. They get a lot of their meat from Cioffi’s across the street and the small local produce shops for their daily fruits and vegetables.



It’s the customers keep them going. Takeout and delivery has provided them with more flexibility. A lot of the regulars make this food in their own homes, it’s really special when Greeks come in to get their favourite dishes, as their own mothers are great cooks.


Biggest challenge of working with family? Discussions over pricing or how exact something should be served, how to incorporate ingredients versus the opinions of three other siblings — these can either cause a huge rift or bring you closer together.  With this family, there can be arguing but it comes together pretty quickly. There are no grudges and you can tell it like it is. There is no one you can trust more, and no one you can speak more honestly to, than family.


Sfinaki means a 1 oz shot of alcohol, usually ouzo. So raise a glass to this family gem in Burnaby Heights.



Amanda @Fueler

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