It’s no surprise that local brunch spot Hotcakes Emporium is known for its pancakes. Gus Dagres, the restaurant’s owner, says there’s no secret. It’s just quality ingredients, whole eggs, and his flair for delicious food.
“The pancakes are unbelievable,” he says. “We have the best pancakes. We always make them fresh.”
Dagres, owner of four Hotcake Emporium locations in the Indy area as well as OPA! in Avon, calls himself a very good, but very picky, eater. He credits his cooking knowledge and his dynamic tastes to his mother. He recalls being with his mom constantly as a young boy growing up in Greece.
“We did not have babysitters so I was next to her, whatever she was doing,” Dagres says. “She had a good palate, and she was always telling me in the kitchen, ‘Bring me that, bring me that, bring me that.’ I got into the cooking thing because of her. I found out that I like the good stuff.”
Brunch and breakfast food are no exception. Hotcakes Emporium is known for its pancakes, made with fresh ingredients and whole, cracked eggs. Dagres emphasizes that he never uses liquid eggs in any dishes at any of his restaurants.
The pancakes come in various flavors and types. The menu also features cheesecake pancakes, for which customers can choose strawberry, chocolate, cherry, Oreo and Black Forest.
Crepes, waffles and French toast with various toppings make dessert for breakfast completely acceptable. Omelets, skillets, burgers, sandwiches, soups, melts and gyros are also served throughout the day.
Dagres prides himself on fresh, quality food, all prepared in-house.
“I pay a little more for everything to keep a good quality,” he says. “Food has to be healthy. Nothing is prepackaged or frozen. We don’t use garlic powder. We don’t use onion powder. We use the real stuff. Nothing is pre-made. I’m a picky eater, and I trust my quality of food.”
Dagres feels it’s important to know where food comes from and what’s in it. He uses Black Angus beef for any beef dishes, cooking it with fresh herbs and draining all the fat. He knows and trusts his sausage and bacon supplier.
Dagres values family and relationships. When asked if he would expand Hotcakes Emporium or OPA!, he answers cautiously, noting that the coronavirus crisis has made expanding business tricky. He also wants to keep a close eye on the restaurants he currently runs.
“Many people want me to come to their area,” Dagres says. “We don’t want to jump too far and then not be able to manage anything. This is a family thing.”
Dagres appreciates the loyalty and support of the community, often handing out discount cards or free desserts.
“I feel my customers are my family,” he says. “I feel like Avon is my little village in Greece. Everywhere I go, people talk to me. I always am so thankful for their support.”
Dagres’ entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to various skills, from construction to Greek music, have served him well through the years. He moved to Chicago from Greece when he was 17 years old, and by 21 he had already opened his first dine-in and carry-out sandwich shop. The shop was so popular that he opened nine more concepts in the Chicago area, including a large night club featuring three bars and the capacity to host 800 people.
He loved what he was doing at the time, but the long hours were beginning to wear on him. In 2006 he moved to Avon to be closer to his four children. He ran restaurants for a few friends before opening Hotcakes Emporium in Avon that same year. He went on to open several new locations in the Indy area - one on the north side, one on the south side, and one on the far east side.
He chose a brunch theme so that he could finish work early.
“I like breakfast because at 3 p.m., you’re done,” Dagres says.
Nevertheless, the extra time left Dagres itching to grow and expand. As he was working on the strip where OPA! is currently housed, he decided he couldn’t pass up a deal to open another establishment. Soon OPA! was born, giving him a place to hang out in the evening hours.
Dagres enjoys having two businesses in Avon, describing it as a quiet community to live in with easy access to other parts of the city. He also loves working with his son Dimos, who helps him oversee his restaurants as well as cook in the kitchens.
“He’s right on top of the food like I am,” Dagres says. “We’re both very picky.”
Dimos, who has three sisters, says his earliest memories are of cooking with his dad.
“Everything I know, I learned from him,” he says. “I love working with him. He’s my best friend. We cooked a lot growing up, and we are all good cooks in our family.”
Dimos and his dad both enjoy watching customers sit down and eat, enjoying their food and the company of their loved ones. It’s a quiet pleasure and satisfaction that keeps them both going each day.
“I want people to feel like they went somewhere,” Dagres says. “They come here, everything in their mind leaves, and they eat well. I want them to feel good when they come here.”
Hotcakes Emporium is located at 5201 East US Highway 36 in Avon. For more information, call 317-745-6262 or visit them online at hotcakesemporiumavon.com.