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Woonsocket restaurant’s ready to play in the big leagues

September 19, 2013

WOONSOCKET – The Gianakis family has been running successful restaurants from Florida to Worcester for years, but they might want to keep an eye on nanny-state politicians campaigning against generous food portions.

Some might think their roast beef sandwiches are too big to be legal.
Now, the proprietors of Major League Roast Beef & Wings have brought their super-size bites to 67 Cumberland St., a place where local officials urge food lovers to splurge with freedom-loving abandon.

Indeed, Mayor Leo T. Fontaine and Economic Development Director Mathew Wojcik were seen there Thursday toting a large satchel of to-go goodies out the door.

Actually, it was a two-pronged mission for the officials, who arrived bearing a welcome-to-Woonsocket present for the sports-themed restaurant, adorned with action photos of big-time football and baseball greats. Fontaine presented proprietor Rebecca Gianakis with a framed ‘50s-era photograph of the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers Jackie Robinson and Clem Labine, the famous pitcher who grew up in Woonsocket.
“We’re glad to have them here,” said Fontaine. “This building was vacant for a long time, and to say it’s fully occupied now is a sign things are moving in the right direction.”

Gianakis said she and her husband Nicholas are glad they launched a restaurant in the city, too. They’ve been open since early June, but they decided to keep a low profile for a while to make sure workers had the system nailed down.

They’re satisfied with the pace of business, said Gianakis, though she expects it to be far busier in the months ahead. She said it took nearly two years to get their first Major League restaurant, in Auburn, Mass., up to speed.

Given the brisk traffic at the new location, the nexus of Clinton and Cumberland streets, she’s sure they’ll get to where they want to be.
She said it was actually her husband’s uncle who found the location when he was looking for a place to start a similar restaurant. For some reason, he passed on it for a site in nearby Massachusetts, and her husband snapped it up.

The Gianakis family didn’t put “major league” in the name of the restaurant by accident. One of its chief claims to fame is big portions, she says. Roast beef sandwiches come in three bun-busting sizes, with a super checking in with six ounces of roast beef. All the meat is real beef, cooked on site in Major League’s own kitchen. It’s not the processed stuff some of the chain restaurants are putting out, and the portions are bigger than competing venues that do serve real roast beef, she says.

“The convection ovens are going 24/7 back there,” she says, nodding beyond the service counter. “It’s food we’d want to eat ourselves. If we wouldn’t eat it, we won’t serve it.”

The Gianakis family has a venerable claim to roast beef expertise. The couple, who reside in Douglas, Mass., opened their first roast beef restaurant in Worcester some 13 years ago. Dubbed New England Roast Beef, the Gianakises ran the restaurant for about a decade before selling it to a relative.

Soon after, the Gianakises opened their first Major League Roast Beef & Wings in Auburn, just outside of Worcester. Like the name says, barbecue-style wings are also a staple item on the menu, but if you’re getting the impression this is lowbrow grub, you’d be wrong. Rebecca Gianakis admits to being a true foodie and her nature shows up in some bold flavor combinations in unexpected places.

Take Jucy Lucy, for example – a fat hamburger stuffed with blue cheese. Then there’s the Boom Boom, a burger stuffed with onions, cheddar cheese and peppers. But the edgiest cut of all might just be the Surf & Turf, a hamburger packed with lobster meat, topped with melted brie.

The menu also features a wide assortment of salads, soups, deli-style sandwiches, melts and paninis, desserts, kids’ selections and a spiffy steak tip sandwich.

Even before the Gianakises were roasting beef, they were already fairly experienced restaurateurs. The couple previously ran four cafe-style breakfast restaurants in Worcester County, including one in their hometown of Douglas, and others in Webster, Northbridge and Upton. The group was called “The Little Coffee Bean.”

For a time, the family also ran a breakfast restaurant outside Clearwater, Fla. They pulled up New England stakes and learned how to cook southern-style for the first time, dishing up biscuits, grits and gravy. They turned out to be pretty good at it, judging by how brisk a business they were doing. Family ties eventually drew them back to their roots in nearby Massachusetts.

The Gianakises’ appear to have made another seamless transition to Rhode Island with their latest venture, but Wojcik, the economic development director, says it wasn’t as effortless as it seems. Every new business startup or relocation is something of a partnership with the city, he says, and a lot of behind-the-scenes work went into bringing in Major League.

“We do the hard work of helping people who are trying to start a business and make a living,” said Wojcik. “It’s part of what we do to make people realize we’re open for business. People can call us and we’ll help them in whatever way we can.”

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