By Davis Coen
Photos by Lucky Elephant Marketing
One of the most popular new casual dining spots on the Square in 2022 is Greek restaurant, OPA!
For owners Chad Jennings and Hudson Chadwick it’s been a long, rocky road since plans and construction began, but they were finally able to open their doors last November, after completing an inviting outdoor patio, transforming what used to be the back area of bygone businesses, Soulshine Pizza Factory, and Gus’s Fried Chicken.
Doing so, they’ve been able to provide delicious meals and beverages to the community just in time for folks to start getting out and dining more.
Chadwick, who also owns Rafter’s locations, always wanted to open a Greek restaurant. He grew up in Jackson, which is home to a number of authentic Greek restaurants – most notably Keifer’s – and he basically just loved food.
Jennings formerly managed Soulshine Pizza Factory, during which time he and Chadwick became friends, and had spent years with Performance Food Group (PFG) who has a main office in Batesville, MS.
He recalled that while working for PFG, and also as Chadwick’s food rep, that the South Lamar Boulevard space became available. After discussing it and finally looking at the property, the “kicker” for him and his business partner was learning from the landlord (who is also the landlord for Rafter’s) that they would be permitted to actually build a courtyard patio, of course pending on the City’s approval.
According to Jennings the approval was about a six month process, involving many setbacks before they were finally able to start building.
Chadwick and Jennings considered that although there was already another Greek restaurant in Oxford (Volta Taverna), that an additional one could still be beneficial to the culinary landscape of the town.
“We didn’t push the culinary limits by any means,” said Jennings, humbly, “but we did come up with some fun appetizers.” These include the popular Gyrolls, which are filled with hand sliced gyro meat, sriracha slaw, mozzarella and feta cheese, served with egg roll sauce, and also Feta Fritters, OPA’s homemade Greek cheese fritters served with sriracha honey mustard. Also, Falafel Balls, Stuffed Mushrooms, and of course Spanakopita Dip.
“We didn’t try to reinvent the wheel,” said Jennings. “We rolled out a menu that we felt like we could execute out of the gate.”
Classic wraps include the gyro, and a New York strip steak melt, shaved in-house. And entree features include steak kabobs, chicken souvlaki kabobs and shrimp kabobs.
“Basically, we wanted to have a menu that felt casual and comfortable,” said Jennings, of what spans from lunch-type lighter items, like salads and soups, to more substantial dinner-type items, like the kabobs, garlic and herb lamb chops, fresh fish, and an occasional pita pizza chalkboards special – which would work for both lunch and dinner and Jennings hopes to do “more of in the future.”
Cocktails include the OPA! Famous Lemonada, the Santorini Smash, the Pamarita, the Mississippi Red (featuring Old Soul Bourbon), and the OPA! Bloody Mary.
Although the menu’s still developing, Jennings said they’re looking at doing some seasonal salads, and possibly a pasta dish, and an ouzo salad, but that the “staples are pretty much in place and have all been really well received.”
As goes for most restaurant businesses these days, labor and food costs have been the biggest challenge for OPA. “We’re figuring it out,” said Jennings. He added: “Being in Oxford, you kind of live and die by the success of the Rebels. Good baseball, basketball, and football seasons tend to influence those things heavily. We’re navigating through, as best as anyone I think.”