Business

Zorba's gets new owners

Kevin Olson, of Bellingham, and Juanita Robertson have taken over ownership of Zorba’s Restaurant, which specializes in Italian and Greek cuisine.  - Photo by Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Kevin Olson, of Bellingham, and Juanita Robertson have taken over ownership of Zorba’s Restaurant, which specializes in Italian and Greek cuisine.
— image credit: Photo by Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Taking over Zorba’s Restaurant was kind of like coming home for Kevin Olson.

The Bellingham native took his first dishwashing job at 15 years old from longtime Zorba’s Restaurant owner Chris Pantoleon 24 years ago at his Ferndale restaurant.

Olson and his parter, Juanita Robertson, purchased Zorba’s Restaurant and took over ownership June 1.

Pantoleon, who owned Zorba’s Restaurant for 13 years, said his history with Olson made it easier for him to hand over the reins to the business.

“When you know someone a long time, it helps,” Pantoleon said. “It helped selling the place.”

Pantoleon said he was wanting to retire and sell the place for a while, and when Olson and Robertson started working at the Ferndale restaurant again, he saw an opportunity.

The pair had owned and operated restaurants and a bar in Montana and were looking for a similar gig closer to Olson’s family in Bellingham.

For them, Whidbey Island is the perfect fit.

“I love it here. I love Oak Harbor,” Robertson said. “Everybody’s been so nice.”

Prior to her restaurant experience, Robertson worked in banking. Robertson said she was drawn to restaurant ownership because she wanted to be her own boss and have her own establishment.

Olson has worked as a cook on and off for years and has a good knowledge of the Italian and Greek cuisines Zorba’s championed.

The couple said that they plan to keep the restaurant the same — except for a few small changes.

They’ve added a chef salad and oven-toasted subs, and they can now serve spirits in addition to beer and wine. They will also feature specials from Italian, Greek and even American recipes.

“Right now, we’re just trying to see what sells,” Olson said.

But, “we got all the secret recipes from Chris,” Robertson said. “So everything is basically going to stay the same.”

Olson and Robertson were also able to retain all the original staff, she said.

“We’ve been very happy about that,” Robertson said. “They have been great, and we’re very lucky to have them."

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