Ted’s Restaurant: Birmingham Staple Makes Changes During Pandemic

Ted’s Restaurant offers fresh Southern cuisine with a Greek flair straight from the farmer’s market to the steam table.

If you work or live in downtown Birmingham, chances are you have seen or visited Ted’s Restaurant.

A staple for Southern cuisine with a Greek flair, Ted’s opened in 1973, owned and operated by Ted Sarris, who led the restaurant until 2000 when he passed the torch to its current owners, Tasos and Beba Touloupis. They have devoted the past 20 years to keeping the meat-and-three operating, offering market-fresh produce and family recipes to their clientele.

Taking over a restaurant with an established menu and regular customers can be daunting.

“I was nervous,” says Tasos Touloupis. “I know how to handle the kitchen, but I had never had the privilege of handling an entire restaurant. The steam table only has so many slots and the customers all knew where the food was supposed to go. It was like an assembly line that I had to quickly learn.”

But as time passed, Tasos Touloupis started implementing small changes to the menu while keeping the quality of the food top-notch. Ted’s has always served fresh vegetables, straight from the farmers market, and that hasn’t changed.

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“What we have seen over the last 20 years is the movement to farm-to-table,” says Beba Touloupis. “But we have been doing farm-to-table for the last 20 years. That’s what a meat-and-three is.”

This last year, keeping the restaurant going has been the biggest challenge the couple have faced. COVID-19 and the safety restrictions that came as a result of the virus have brought numerous changes to the restaurant.

“We went from serving 200 people to serving 30,” says Beba Touloupis. “We had to furlough everyone except our two salaried employees.”

Tasos Touloupis adds, “We learned a lot. We realized how much Ted’s meant to us — for us, our family, for Ted and Lisa (Sarris) and the community. It was important that we stayed loyal to our clientele. No matter what, we needed to stay open and relevant.”

So, the Touloupises changed the way they ran the restaurant – adding curbside take out, a Saturday brunch and getting a liquor license while doing away with breakfast. Today, the Touloupises say they are about at half-capacity of what the restaurant experienced before COVID-19.

“We are blessed to see some new faces,” says Tasos Touloupis. “Only about 30% of the employees in Birmingham are working from the office, so we are not seeing everybody that used to come in.

“We have always tried to offer an experience that is good food with Southern cuisine and Greek cuisine —  good service in a timely manner and creating a nice environment in which to enjoy the food,” Tasos Touloupis says. He laments that today, customers don’t want the sit-down experience, opting instead for quick pick up.

Tasos Touloupis says prior to the pandemic, take-out orders were about 5% to 10% of the restaurant’s business. Today, it is 50%.

In adding brunch, the couple also partnered with Suzie’s Southern Fried Pies, based in Calera, to provide hand pies that are available as part of Ted’s brunch menu. “I tasted her fried apple pie and it was just delicious,” says Tasos Touloupis. “It only takes a few minutes to fry them so we do it to order. I have always tried to support people and other businesses in Birmingham.”

When Ted’s started offering brunch about 10 months ago, they added Suzie’s Southern Fried Pies to the menu.

Catering used to make up about 25% of Ted’s gross sales. During COVID-19, that dropped to 2%. Tasos Touloupis adds that since there aren’t any work gatherings or meetings, the catering is mostly aimed at hospitals.

“We used to have some groups that would come in weekly,” he says. “Some of those groups, like the Rotary, have continued to support us. While they aren’t coming in to meet, they are sponsoring luncheons for the police department, hospitals and first responders.” Ted’s also participated in Meals for Heroes and fed the homeless when COVID-19 first got underway.

The restaurant is open Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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