WATERVILLE — Opa!

The word is a Greek exclamation of celebration and emotion, uttered during traditional dancing at weddings or on a night at a Greek taverna.

Opa also is the name of a new Greek restaurant on Main Street in Waterville, part of a new layer in the city’s cuisine scene, which offers food from all over the world.

“Greeks are the best cooks in the world,” said Sotirios Gudis, who, with his mother, Anna, and sister Polyxeni, opened the 60-seat eatery Jan. 3.

Opa is located in what was once Waterville House of Pizza, operated by Angelo and Anna Gudis beginning in 1987. They later leased the business to another Greek family and opened Angelo’s Pizzeria on Waterville Road in Skowhegan, but kept ownership of the Waterville building. They were in Skowhegan for 17 years and in the pizza and submarine sandwich business a total of 30 years.

The family sold the business in Skowhegan last year and concentrated on renovating the Waterville building, while the new Waterville House of Pizza opened next door under new ownership.

Opa offers a menu of authentic Greek and Mediterranean dishes, along with a full bar of Greek, sparkling and house wines; and beer, including Bigelow Brown from Skowhegan, and Cushnoc All Souls and Allagash White, also from Maine.

Opa restaurant manager Ben Sandy pours a Freddo martini Tuesday at the bar of the new Greek restaurant on Main Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

There is a list of cocktails, including Santorini Sunrise and Aegean Fizz.

Entrées include souvlaki, or skewered chicken; moussaka, or sautéed eggplant and potato; and pastitsio, a Greek pasta dish.

There are small-plate dishes, salads and tastes “for the table,” including tzatziki yogurt dip and a garlic-and-potato dish called scordalia. Opa also offers “glyká,” or dessert menu items.

Sotirios Gudis said his father, Angelo, who died in 2011 and was buried in Greece, always wanted a fine-dining restaurant after having run pizza parlors in several locations in Maine. They opened Opa on Jan. 3, the eighth anniversary of Angelo’s passing.

Evangelos “Angelo” Gudis in 1984 was one of the many ethnic Greeks living in Albania who sought to escape the repressive regime of dictator Enver Hoxha by swimming to the Greek Island of Corfu. Gudis swam with four of his friends through the guarded strait to freedom in the West. Many others who attempted the escape lost their lives by drowning or by being caught by the communist regime.

Sotirios Gudis said he is the primary owner of the restaurant, but his mother is the boss.

“I’ve always said that if we ever are going to open a new restaurant, it was together as a family,” he said. “We had worked on an idea of opening a sit-down restaurant — no more pizza. So I came up with the idea and she helped me. Both of them have helped me. We’re family-owned.”

Sotirios added that his sister, whom they call Polena, also is working on her degree from medical school.

The menu was assembled by all three family members, he said, with help from the restaurant’s staff, including head chef Joe Kenny, of Portland.

“You can think up the idea, but unless someone creates it, it’s only an idea,” he said.

Ben Sandy, 27, of Vassalboro, the restaurant manager, said he sees Waterville becoming kind of a foodie destination, with Italian, Indian, Lebanese, Chinese and Thai offerings around the city.

Adding Greek food and drink to the city menu just adds to the mix, he said.

He said he met Sotirios Gudis, 26, when both men were in college. Sandy said he had no actual restaurant experience, but he worked for L.L. Bean for three years and has plenty of business experience.

“I definitely think it has the potential to be a foodie destination,” he said of the city of Waterville, with Colby College and others heavily invested in the growth of the downtown. “There are some excellent restaurants down here. I think Waterville has come a long way with its food scene. I think Sotirios and the family did a really good job of identifying an opportunity, identifying that Waterville wanted something like this.

“Every night we have folks in here strictly from word of mouth. The stuffed chicken is really excellent.”

He said Opa has become a special spot for Colby faculty and staff members, as well as some of the other city developers.

Garvan Donegan, senior economic development specialist at the Central Maine Growth Council, said Waterville is indeed on the culinary map of Maine.

Sotirios Gudis and his mother, Anna, along with his sister Polyxeni, have opened the Greek restaurant Opa on Main Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“Waterville is emerging as a true foodie scene in the state of Maine, and it is really exciting to see not only the growth of food service and accommodation type businesses — from Maine Crisp Co. to Opa — but the real diversity and variety within these restaurants that are coming into the city and its downtown,” Donegan said in an email to the Morning Sentinel.

With a population increase of 5.6 percent since 2010 and the city’s population nearly doubling during the day, the downtown’s restaurants “create a draw for people to live, enjoy, and or visit the district, while creating opportunities for other businesses and retail operations to arise,” he said.

“With the growing trend of eating out, our downtown restaurants contribute to the overall experience of the downtown, giving the public the opportunity to park once, go to dinner, see a show or theatrical production, and even back out for a dessert, coffee or locally crafted microbrew.”

Kimberly Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, agreed with Donegan’s assessment.

“Absolutely,” she said in an email. “Waterville is showcasing a wonderfully diverse selection of culinary options … and rumor had it that there are more to come.”

Anna Gudis, 56, said the family lives in Clinton, but that her children grew up in Waterville, a city she has a special affection for.

“I love being back in Waterville,” she said. “I see a lot of people from before, with us being so many years here. We came back and decided to do something different.”

Anna, who grew up in Ioannina, in northwestern Greece, said she makes all the Greek food and dessert dishes to be prepared by the kitchen chefs, using recipes that have been passed on through the generations.

The restaurant is open from 3 to 10 p.m., Tuesday though Saturday, with a planned Sunday brunch in the weeks to come.

Sotirios said his family wanted to create a place for celebration, which is why they named the restaurant Opa.

“Greeks love to eat and Greeks love to party,” he said. “And we want to bring that to people outside of our culture. We want to teach them how traditionally Greek families work.

“We’re big families. Everybody’s involved. Everybody has a good time, and no one ever leaves hungry. Opa — cheers and celebration.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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