Oak Harbor’s new gyro hero: Former employee buys, transforms longtime Greek restaurant

Things are a bit different now for Jessie Abrahamson at the little gyro restaurant where she worked when she was 18.

The menu has changed, the name went from Nadya’s Greek Cuisine to A.B.’s Hillbilly Gyros and she’s now the owner instead of a line cook.

“It’s really surreal being back in here and it being mine,” Abrahamson said.

The small hole-in-the-wall shop was where she first set the course for her career trajectory. Under Nadya Flynn’s coaching, she became pretty efficient at making the Greek sandwiches on the grill— and she often got positive feedback for her work.

“She had no idea what gyros are,” Flynn said of Abrahamson when she was first hired. “… She picked it up really fast. She’s a very smart girl.”

She worked with Flynn for a few years and eventually moved on to purchase her own food truck. She and her partner Chris Abrahamson formed A.B.’s Hillbilly Gyros. The first initials in the name came from the first two letters in their last name, with the hope that the restaurant would come first in the phone book.

She drew inspiration from a sign for Hillbilly Espresso she saw and “fell in love with.” She said the intrigue it sparks is often enough to bring people in who want to know what a “hillbilly gyro” is. Her new namesake sandwich is the “manliest,” she said, and it includes lamb, beef, bacon, lettuce, tomato and feta.

Her traditional gyro —- made with lamb, tomato, onions with a choice of sauce in pita —- is similar to what she made at Nadya’s as a teenager. However, she said with any new person behind the grill and the business, there are bound to be slight differences in the end product.

The journey to expanding to a permanent storefront wasn’t easy. Abrahamson kept in touch with Flynn over the years and planned to take over the restaurant when Flynn retired, but it took three years to get ready to bring the plan to fruition.

“We did nothing but work,” Jessie Abrahamson said.

The couple still maintain a food truck and travel to festivals, fairs and other events on the weekends. They’ve made appearances over the last year in places such as Port Angeles, Neah Bay and Winthrop. Last year, they set up 81 times.

“We’re always hopped up on Lipton Tea,” Jessie Abrahamson said with a laugh.

Partnering in business with a life partner can come with its challenges, she said. It usually works out because they delegate tasks differently between them and try to limit crossover. She said she usually handles duties inside and he works mostly outside.

Luckily, the whole family chips in and her five children are “trained in the arts,” she said.

A.B.’s Hillbilly Gyro officially opened in Nadya’s old space on Highway 20 on Jan. 1. This was the same week the couple closed on a house and after larger companies attempted to out-bid them on the restaurant. Abrahamson said Flynn had made it clear she wanted the restaurant to continue selling Greek cuisine after her retirement and stay locally operated.

“We pulled it off,” said Chris Abrahamson. “It’s amazing.”

n A.B’s Hillbilly Gyros is located at 32760 Highway 20, Oak Harbor.

Chris and Jessie Abrahamson. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey New-Times

Chris and Jessie Abrahamson. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey New-Times