By Tom McParland
A new restaurant in North Lima is offering something different for travelers, lodgers and residents on Market Street, just off Interstate 76.
Gyro Express Bar and Grill, 10125 Market St., specializes in making the gyro, a Greek dish that combines lamb and beef. It’s a place where you can get freshly squeezed lemonade for just 140 calories, and lunch can cost less than $5, said Mike Haq, the restaurant’s owner.
Gyro Express opened April 14 at Haq’s Valero service station near the turnpike. It has seating for 55 and features a takeout window and catering services.
For Haq, it’s his first foray into the restaurant business.
The Pakistan native has a background in sales and marketing, which he used for 13 years in Dubai. Haq moved to New York in 1997, where he owned a 711 and, later, a distribution company that supplied area stores.
He came to Ohio in 2007 after taking a job with a McQuaids gas station, and two years later he decided to go out on his own, buying a gas station in Warren.
He then bought the Valero station and accompanying convenience store in 2011. It was connected to a building that used to serve barbecue, which got Haq thinking about his latest venture.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in the food business,” he said, recognizing an opportunity off a major interstate road.
Months later, Larry McMillian, a head morning cook at Chili’s Grill and Bar Restaurant, happened to stop in Haq’s store, and the two started talking about opening a restaurant.
Weeks later, the pair were cleaning the space, making some minor renovations and ordering food and supplies.
“He said he always wanted to open one,” McMillian said, “but he just didn’t have the right person to do it with. But here I am. I guess I’m the right one.”
The gyros have been selling exceptionally well, Haq said, and the fresh and healthful food has stood out in an area populated by fast-food restaurants.
The meat is first cooked — vertically and spinning in a special gyro oven — to make sure it is cooked evenly and that excess grease drains from the meat. McMillian — or one of the other two chefs — then cooks it on a flat-top grill and wraps it up with lettuce and a special sauce.
For those who prefer more familiar fare, Gyro Express also offers a range of other options, including burgers, sub sandwiches and fajitas.
“I’m making sure I’m buying the best stuff on the market,” Haq said.
Gyro Express is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. But Haq hopes to tweak those hours soon to add breakfast.
The restaurant has increased business at the store and gas station, and all three services combine to serve about 400 people a day, he said.
“That is my whole idea, to generate more traffic,” Haq said.
Eventually, the store will operate 24 hours a day, and Haq will be able to use his Class D liquor license, which allows him to sell beer and wine until 2:30 a.m.
As for McMillian, he’s happy to be teamed up with Haq on the new venture. He said his goal is to eventually expand. “It’s a small restaurant, but who’s to say it will stay like that?” he said.