A fixture in Kerrisdale since 1973, Minerva's has provided Mediterranean food to the neighbourhood’s people for more than a generation.
Minerva's’ owner, Nonda Pavlakis, was a young man of 17 when he came to Vancouver from Greece in 1967 to be with his brother and sister. He did tailoring and sales at a clothing store, and later became part owner of the Copacabana night club.
I was at Copacabana and we had just sold the club. A friend of mine came along and he asked if I wanted to buy a restaurant. My answer to him was, ‘What the hell would we do with a restaurant? I don’t know anything about restaurants.’ A month later, I was involved in the restaurant. I just saw the opportunity was here. It was a little restaurant that was doing okay then.
In 1975, he and his friend purchased a small, two-year-old pizza joint on West 41st from a Greek couple. The name Minerva's, from the Roman goddess of wisdom, came with the restaurant, even though the previous owners were Greek.
I took it over, with a friend of mine, actually, but he stayed here for about eight months and he left. I took over the restaurant and worked hard. About a couple of years later, we expanded.
At the time, Kerrisdale was, as Nonda puts it, "a nice little village. It has changed a lot now. It used to be all kinds of stores. Now you see coffee shops, beauty salons, and banks. That’s all you see in Kerrisdale."
As Kerrisdale evolved, Minerva's evolved along with it, going through renovations and expansions roughly every decade.
When we bought it, it was the old style with the red carpet, red chairs, velour wallpaper. We changed it over the years. Every few years we like to do something to update.
Currently, Minerva's has an understated style of comforting earth tones and diffused lighting, with paintings of Mediterranean scenes on the walls. In the summer, the large windows open onto the sidewalk.
For our business, the changes were good, actually. Ninety per cent of our customers are repeat customers. They live in the neighbourhood, but the neighbourhood has changed a lot. It used to be older people here, but now there are a lot of young families moving into the area.
His wife Kay works behind the restaurant’s bar, and his son John runs the business as a manager, since 2007. In August of 2016, it opened up an adjoining bar on the corner, Barra 41, which John runs.
Over the years, we’ve changed the menu a lot. Because it was just a pizza and pasta place. Then we kept changing the menu every so often. We take something out, we add something. We go with the times. We go with the people’s needs. Now it’s mostly a Mediterranean restaurant. We still have the pizza, of course, but we’re very well known for our steaks and our barbecue. And of course, we have lots of Greek dishes, as well.
Asked about the secret of his establishment’s longevity, Nonda is characteristically modest.
You have to take care of your customers. Give them the right things, give them the quality of the food. We have very good quality of food, and our prices are affordable. Our steaks, for example. We use the best steaks here. Downtown you would pay sixty dollars. Here you will pay thirty or thirty-five dollars.
Nonda talks about how former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm and former Prime Minister Kim Campbell have visited and stops himself before he can name a certain Vancouver-born movie star who regularly eats there.
This is characteristic of how Nonda treats all of his customers, some of whom are neighbourhood regulars who eat there seven days a week.
I can walk around here right now, and I know every one of my customers. When you come in through that door, we try to make you be happy when you go. That’s the success of a restaurant. You don’t see the people as a dollar sign. You go to some places and they try to grab the dollar and they don’t care about the mood. Here, we like to see you over and over and again and again.
After running a restaurant for more than forty years, Nonda says right now, he doesn't have any plans for the future.
I’m still working. I’m going to continue working.
The sample dinner was barbecued baby back ribs with spaghetti. The generously sized portion of ribs were tender and easily separated from the bones, which provided the requisite tactile experience. The barbecue sauce was tart and tasty. The accompanying spaghetti came with a red sauce with more subtle flavours than you would find in other restaurants. The side dishes were garlic bread and Greek salad made with crisp and fresh vegetables, which together with the main entrée made for a satisfying dinner.
Meet The Photographer: Ricardo Vacas
Ricardo Vacas, owner of the firm Kerp Photography, always showed intense interest in many forms of creative arts. His professional photography career started in his home country, Spain, where he was the official photographer of several music bands, models and clothing brands. He decided to move to Wellington, New Zealand in 2012, knowing his real interest was fashion photography more than any other field. Currently living in Vancouver, Canada, he now combines his fashion, editorial and commercial photography projects with regular trips to Europe and USA.