It’s difficult to walk by Camden House of Pizza, affectionately known by locals as “CHOPs” and not go inside.
Once inside, it’s even more difficult to leave.
The comfortable tables and booths, the mouth-watering scents wafting from the kitchen, the easygoing but efficient staff, all of it seems to create a special vibe that keeps people coming back.
Owner/operator Georgia Megadrosos, who started working in Camden House of Pizza with her parents in 1990 and took it over completely when her parents retired, knows the place is special. The dining is casual, the menu fairly straightforward -- pizza and subs, salads and sandwiches – but it’s much more than that.
“It’s about community -- our customers really are like our family – we know pretty much all of them by face and most of them by name,” she said.
Running a restaurant is obviously not a snap, but there are three basic rules anyone in the business must follow before anything else, she notes.
“You have to serve good food and give great customer service,” she said. “And you have to have a clean restaurant. If you fall short on any of those, you are going to fail, period.”
Those are the key elements to offering a good dining out value, she said. But there are other considerations, too, she said.
“I’m not going to cut corners on ingredients,” she said. “If you have inferior ingredients, you will serve inferior food and ultimately lose business. Any potential short-term savings is absolutely not worth that.”
One must keep up with trends while still staying true to one’s field of expertise. In other words, she is not going to suddenly change the menu from pizza and subs to seafood or fine dining; she knows CHOPs has built a strong reputation on what it does and there is no reason to stray from that.
Nonetheless, there are innovations one can do within one’s sphere of influence. For example, CHOPs recently introduced gluten free items -- most notably gluten free pizza -- which has been very successful.
“That has been a hit -- I’ve had more people come up to me and tell me how glad they are we have gluten free and they don’t have to drive all the way to Columbia,” she said.
Megadrosos, who was born in Athens, Greece, also plans to start introducing Greek favorites such as spanikopita, moussaka and other similar items as specials during the week.
Megadrosos said she doesn’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t around the restaurant business. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1970; they opened their first pizza and sub shop in Massachusetts. It was a small, shopping center-front shop which basically consisted of two booths, a counter, kitchen and tiny store room/office. Since they had no babysitters nor was there such a thing as Pre - K or day care, her parents would put baby Georgia in a play pen in the back room while they worked their tiny restaurant.
“When I say I grew up in the restaurant business, I literally mean I grew up in the restaurant business,” she said.
The family would move from Massachusetts to Myrtle Beach, where her parents would establish the King’s Pizza chain. Later, after a short-lived relocation to Florida, the family would buy a restaurant, Camden House of Pizza in Camden in 1990. Her parents opened a second restaurant, Pontiac House of Pizza, shortly thereafter.
Georgia graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1994 with a degree in accounting. At the time, she said, she was just not interested in the restaurant business.
“I worked hard to earn my accounting degree; I wanted to do accounting,” she said.
She took a job with the S.C. Hospitality Association, but found it wasn’t the right fit for her. After nine months, she left the Hospitality Association and, with intentions of doing this only until a job opened up in her field, she agreed to help her parents run the restaurant in Pontiac.
Then, in 1995, her sister became ill with cancer. Sadly, she passed away in 1996.
It didn’t take too long for Georgia to realize she could not run both restaurants at peak performance at the same time so the family sold the Pontiac restaurant and she took over management of CHOPs.
Her parents have been fully retired from the restaurant for several years now, although she says she still seeks their advice and her mother still comes in fairly regularly to hand mix the pizza dough.
She also notes that the restaurant’s success rests squarely upon the efforts and attitude of her employees, many of whom have worked there for a number of years.
“We have some truly wonderful, hard working people here; we couldn’t do what we do without them,” she said. “Any success we have is due to them.”
But ultimately, Georgia Megadrosos says the restaurant’s customers are the secret to CHOP’s success and she is grateful every day for all of them.
“I am blessed, grateful and thankful for every single person who walks through that door,” she said. “Last time I checked the phone book, there were something like 42 different places to eat just in Camden alone, so you bet we’re grateful people choose to come see us.”