If you are into Italian and Greek cuisine, this interview will be of great interest to you. It’ll tell the story of chef and business owner Pete Sereggela. Pete, a second-generation Greek immigrant, calls Estevan, Saskatchewan home. He comes from a family that loves and cherishes food and the culinary industry.
If you’d like to know about the person and story behind the best pizza around, follow us through the kitchen doors of the Tower Café.
Why and how did you get involved in the culinary industry?
I was born into it. I guess you could say I was born with a spatula in my hand. My father took over Tower Café in 1971, and I grew up in this kitchen. I was learning the ropes since I could walk.
How did your family get involved?
My Dad, George Sereggela, immigrated to Canada from Greece in 1947 at 17 years old. Once in Canada, he found work as a Chef at Jack’s Café in Eastend, Saskatchewan. He picked up work as a labourer for Graham Construction and worked on a job in Estevan. He saw the need for a restaurant in the city and was acquainted with John Papandreous, who once owned and operated Tower Café. At the time, John was not well, and the business required new ownership – that’s where my Dad seized the opportunity. He barely had a nickel in his pocket, but he worked hard to purchase the business.
Note – George was 21 years old when he purchased the Tower Café. His goal as an immigrant was to start a new life in a country he adored and wanted to support his family back in Greece. George passed in 1989 when he was at the peak of his career due to complications.
How brave of him to come to Canada at such a young age to help his family have a better life. What is your role in the business now?
A bit of everything, from chief cook to bottle washer, I do whatever it takes. I like to be in the kitchen, and during busy times it’s all hands on deck. At other times I’m ordering stock, managing frontline staff, and even menu design. When you operate a restaurant, you live and breathe it.
Did you go to culinary school, or how did you learn to cook?
Well, I did a bit of everything. Food is my passion; it brings people together; it’s the time when we share stories and connect with people who mean the most to us. I mainly learned from my family members, but travel has taught me a lot, working with different chefs who are newcomers to Canada. We currently have some chefs from India at the restaurant, and I am enjoying learning from them.
I learned a lot from my Dad; he worked in a bakery in Greece and was so full of knowledge.
What are you doing with the menu?
I get inspiration from the current chefs that are working here. I have worked alongside chefs who have gone to Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School, but I get inspiration from travel and the ingredients available. We have specialty menus, seasonal menus and patio menus which are influenced by availability. We try to work with in-season fruits and vegetables and then pair with great cuts of meat.
We are starting to work with local producers, a meat smoker out of Lampman, a local perogy supplier who hand-pinches her products. We are working with her to showcase her new line of spinach and feta, tomato basil and french onion perogies that we will be featuring soon!
We also support the local 4H clubs by purchasing steers from their members and having locally raised beef in many of our dishes.
Wow, that’s so exciting for culinary tourism in our region. Using locally sourced ingredients makes dishes stand out because of the freshness, and the ingredients are less processed than package foods. I’m impressed. So what’s next?
Focus right now is preparing for a Saint Patrick’s Day Menu. We will be featuring items like Coddle, Guinness Stew, Beer-Battered Cod & Kettle Chips and pub grub. My brother Tony is opening an Artisan Ice Cream Shop down the street, and that’s exciting for our family. But as an entrepreneur, I’m always looking for expansion opportunities within the province.
Guinness Stew, now that I have to try. It seems like your ideas are endless; tell me about your management style and your staff.
I believe that you are only as good as the people that you surround yourself with. At the end of the day, we all work hard; I work alongside everyone and being on the front line is vital. We are so fortunate that some of our staff have been with us for a long time. They are the heart and soul of this business and want to see it succeed as much as I do. I believe leading by example and making your staff feel part of the process by treating them with respect and listening to their ideas and input gives the business a chance to flourish.
Also, right now, nothing is more important than being flexible and being able to pivot on a dime, and our staff does it with grace.
What’s your philosophy about food/cooking?
Food is life. People gather around a kitchen table at home, they come together to connect, and in today’s world, food variety and learning about food is going viral. Using simple ingredients makes pairing them with great quality items easy and fun in the kitchen.
During this pandemic, we haven’t stopped being able to sit at a table and eat a good meal; it’s a social opportunity that we still have. And that’s what the Tower Café is all about family, food and fun.
What do you love about the restaurant business?
The people. All of them, the customers, the staff, are literally my life. If I don’t see a regular customer come in for lunch on a Tuesday, I wonder where he is, and I’ll give him a call to check-in. It’s my life, we are friends, and some even like family.
What do you like the least about it?
The hours, I put in a lot of hours and long days. I haven’t had a day off since last March. These tougher times, we all have to pull together to work longer and harder. I’m proud to say that we haven’t had to lay off one staff member since this whole pandemic. We had to even hire some because of the pivoting we have been doing.
Tell me about what makes you the proudest?
My kids. Estevan is a great city to raise a family. It allowed my kids to experience a lot and is extremely safe. They had their dance and hockey, baseball and golf. I knew if my kid went to the golf course for 5 hours, he was being taken care of and had people there looking out for him. I could talk for days about how proud of them I am. My son is a computer engineer in Ottawa, and my daughter just received her Master’s in BioChemistry in Saskatoon.
There is nothing like being a parent. Did your kids have favourite foods when growing up, or do you have a favourite ingredient to cook with?
Fresh herbs and spices, and fresh vegetables are always in our kitchen. There is nothing like having fresh. We just started growing mint for Moscow Mules at Willy’s Tap House. The planters are at my house in the offseason, but they sit on the patio here during peak season.
Who are some of the top chefs that you follow?
I like trying different ethnic foods. I am a fan of Cat Cora, who was on Iron Chef America. She is really inspiring, and of course, Guy Fieri, with his Diners, Drive-ins and Dives show, those greasy spoon restaurants are always unique. And Giada De Laurentiis is an impressive Italian chef that loves to cook with fresh ingredients.
You can bring one thing to eat on a deserted island. What are you bringing?
Village Greek Salad. Ya, it’s delicious. But also, Ice cream. I’m sneaking in Ice cream too.
Ya, I’m a sucker for ice cream too. Ok, what if you had to pick a last meal. What would it be? Food? Drink? And who would cook it?
For food, I’d pick this dish from Spilia, a cave restaurant in Greece. They have this flattened chicken dish and baked eggplant with garlic and fresh herbs and tomatoes, and it is so good. I’m not an alcohol drinker, so I would go with carbonated water with a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. And I would cook it myself. Haha. It’s my last meal! I would get as much enjoyment from cooking it as I would eating it.
Haha!, spoken with passion. Ok, I’ve got to ask, how come your pizza is so good? What makes it so unique?
Well, the recipe for our pizza comes from my uncle Spiro; he came from Calgary with this recipe in 1976, that’s the year the Olympics were in Montreal. My Dad coined it Olympia Pizza at the time. It (the recipe) included the sauce and the ingredients for the crust and the toppings. And you know what, we haven’t changed a single thing on that recipe to this day. The volume we do even allows us to do multiple batches of fresh pizza dough each day. Fresh – it’s what makes the pizza.
That interview left me feeling happy and hungry!
To eat with Pete, you can find him here: www.towercafe.ca
and check out this awesome hardware they won!