You might assume this Charlotte restaurant is ‘just another chain.’ Here’s why it’s not.
Written by: Philip Freeman, CharlotteFive
When I moved here in 2014, every native Charlottean I met felt compelled to share about their “unicorn” status. Many of these locals raved about
Photography & Video by Alex Cason Photography
Showmars, the Charlotte-based restaurant chain with its “world famous fish sandwich.”
I didn’t get the hype — until I moved dangerously close (we’re talking 50 feet away) from the East Boulevard location.
Since 1982, Showmars has brought together Greek entrees and Southern dishes, offering both casual dining and fast service. Think pita burgers — with tzatziki sauce. A gyro platter — with fries and a side salad. Hand-cut onion rings alongside hummus and pita. Or baklava cheesecake. My only saving grace was that the Dilworth location isn’t one of the select ones that offers breakfast in addition to lunch and dinner.
“‘Casual Dining … Fast!’ was our slogan up until a few years ago,” Showmars CEO Dean Peroulas told CharlotteFive. “We really pioneered fast-casual dining in Charlotte — allowing customers to order at the counter and receive table service for the rest of their visit.”
What started as a single restaurant on Independence Boulevard has grown to 32 locations — most in the greater Charlotte area with recent openings as far south as Columbia and east as Raleigh.
CUISINE & HOSPITALITY
A few years back, Showmars adopted the tagline “Southern. Fresh. Greek.” “We really want the Southern and Greek to play to both our cuisine and our hospitality,” Peroulas said. Community has been important to Showmars since George Couchell — affectionately known as “Mr. C” — started the restaurant. Couchell immigrated to the United States from Greece, worked in his family’s restaurant and served in the Navy before opening a restaurant of his own.
Showmars wasn’t Couchell’s first restaurant, however — that honor goes to Mr. C’s, a fried chicken restaurant that is still operating in Concord with a new owner.
Upon opening Showmars, Couchell shifted much of his emphasis to fried fish. “Charlotte was peppered with fish camps in the late 70s and early 80s. So it made sense to serve a fish sandwich. He developed a house-made tartar sauce and the sandwich sold like crazy,” Peroulas said.
Mr. C still eats at Showmars occasionally, and diners often approach him to share stories of Showmars past. “Serving our community and customers is huge,” Peroulas reiterated. “We want to be a great experience and be super convenient.”
He credits much of this culture to the owner-operator model, which has also allowed each location to become a neighborhood spot with its own character. Peroulas also grew up working in a family restaurant and credits staff connections with customers for much of Showmars’ success.
GROWING WITH THE TIMES
Showmars has stayed true to Couchell’s Greek and Southern roots for nearly four decades but adapted as needed. The restaurant now has an app, and many locations offer both a drive-thru and parking lot to-go stations. It has also partnered with a third-party delivery service and revamped the website.
The fish sandwich remains Showmars’ top-selling sandwich, and on Fridays, fish can account for 40% of sales. Although Showmars, like most of our Charlotte’s Classic Eats restaurants, sells most of its original menu, there are additions from time to time — like the recently tested spicy fish sandwich that will make a comeback. Or the Beyond Burger and Beyond Hummus Pita. In the Raleigh locations, you’ll find craft beer.
Amid its growth, Showmars plans to keep much the same — particularly its focus on the community, including its partnership with The HEARTest Yard to help pediatric heart patients.
As for the name? “Mr. C had a friend with the last name Showmars. He liked it, so he named the restaurant after him,” Peroulas chuckled.