This Life: George Psarias

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Domestic science: George Psarias studied science at university but ended up running three restaurants in Leeds. JAYNE DAWSON reports.

George Psarias is a Greek Cypriot but moved to England aged 16. He worked in management before deciding to open a restaurant with his wife Vasoulla. The couple, who have two children and two grandchildren, own The Olive Tree which has three branches in Leeds.

My first job was at a Fortes coffee shop in London when I was 17. My brother worked there and took me along. They put an apron on me straight after the interview. One day I was summoned by Mr Fortes who said he wanted me to be one of his managers, but I politely refused. I thought to myself that I was never going to go into catering.

The best piece of advice I ever received was to go to university. My father said it. He was a headmaster in Cyprus so education was everything to him. I went to Bradford University in the end and studied material sciences, and I am very glad that I did.

My guilty pleasure is eating in other people’s restaurants. I enjoyed Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck - though to me the food there was more of a talking point than a meal.

My pet hate is bad drivers. No one seems to indicate when they turn right these days and that really annoys me.

The person I would most like to meet is President Clinton because I think he has great charisma. Whatever your politics, I think everyone would have to agree that there are few characters in politics these days. There is no Churchill, or De Gaulle, or Chairman Mao.

My favourite weekend would be spent in the Yorkshire Dales. I think you have to travel to the countryside to find a really good pub these days. Hills, rivers, greenery and a good pub. What more could you want?

My advice to my teenage self would be to do more or less what I have done, but to be a bit tougher along the way. I have been a bit too soft sometimes. I got into trouble as a teenager because I had a beard even then and I refused to shave it off. So instead I had to write an article for the school magazine about the beards of the Greek gods. I also bought a jacket from Carnaby Street which I was forbidden from wearing. I was a bit of a rebel then. People said I looked a bit like George Best.

I ask my daughter to do social media for me. I can do what I need to do but I am not as computer literate as I should be.

My philosophy of life is to be relaxed and surrounded by happy people, we should all try to avoid people who cause us aggravation. I want to be happy.

I couldn’t live without my family, of course, including my two grandchildren. But I also couldn’t live without my car. I haven’t been on a bus in 30 years, though I am thinking of going round France by train.

My wife has banned me from telling you a joke. She says I am not very good at them.

My most embarrassing moment was opening my car window and shouting at a driver who had annoyed me - then I realised it was a friend of mine. I pretended I had been calling a greeting to him.

It might surprise people to know that I once had a fight with Charlie George, who was a famous footballer in the 1970s and had a Greek Cypriot background like me. We were in the same class at school and that’s when we fell out. Also, have a lot of degrees. As well as my BSc I also have an MBA and a fellow of the Chartered Management Institute.

My childhood was beautiful. My father was strict at his school but not with us. It was quite an affluent childhood and I suppose we were spoiled. There were five children and I am the fourth one. I was babied by my sisters. We all moved over to England, but everyone else eventually went back. I am the only one still here.

I met my wife at university. She was studying sociology and politics and she became a lecturer, but her father ran a restaurant and her mum taught me how to cook. We opened our first restaurant in 1982. It wasn’t doing all that well and first and the bank manager asked us to write a 5,000 word plan on how to improve it. I really resented that at the time but we did it, implemented the ideas and have never looked back. That was 32 years ago.

My first kiss was with Nina, a girl in the same class when I was nine. I loved her then.

My first record was Love Me Do by the Beatles. On my first day in England I walked near a cinema called The Astoria at Finsbury Park. There were thousands of people there and I couldn’t understand what was going on.

Then a limo pulled up and four long haired young men got out - even I realised it was The Beatles. My first impression of England was that it was so busy. I settled in very well and didn’t get homesick. I go home every few years, the sun is the only thing I miss.

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