Risk an essential element to club’s success

George Vassilakakis (left) and brother Florio Vassilakakis say they always try to keep things fresh at Element, including the food, drinks and entertainment. - Kim Magi photo
George Vassilakakis (left) and brother Florio Vassilakakis say they always try to keep things fresh at Element, including the food, drinks and entertainment.
— image credit: Kim Magi photo

Element’s general manager Florio Vassilakakis says the family business is successful because he’s not afraid to take risks.

The risk-taking has been apparent in the recent offerings from Castlegar’s iconic restaurant/bar/night club, whether it be in the variety of acts — which, among many musical performances have also included mixed-martial-arts bouts and male strippers — or the new “martini-infused” mayo on their burgers.

“We try and stay trendy but at the same time we try to improve what we already have,” Florio said.

Two nights a week, Element opens for dancing at the downstairs club, but it wasn’t always that way.

“When we first opened, we were open four days a week in the club and we knew it wasn’t sustainable,” he said.

Eventually, the crowds began to taper off and the club nights were scaled back. What picked up in popularity, though, was the food.

“We weren’t sure how popular the restaurant would be,” said George Vassilakakis, assistant general manager and Florio’s brother.

Before opening in 2006, the family looked at a three-storey building, which would have included the basement as a lounge.

Eventually, they figured it would be too much.

“There’s only 24 hours in a day and we’re already here for most of them,” Florio said.

When they first opened, Florio said the food was almost an afterthought, but now it’s greatly exceeded their expectations.

The restaurant has also given the entire community an opportunity to come and enjoy, George said.

“On Friday and Saturday nights we have a mix of people that come for dinner and drinks and stay for dancing.”

Florio said one reason the restaurant has been so successful is because they try to stay on top of trends.

“If you wait for the market to tell you what they want, you’re already behind,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to control the food experience in Castlegar but I like taking risks in adding things to the menu.”

They’ve also taken top-sellers off the menu, just to change things up. George said often people will come in and try to order a menu item that is no longer available but then pick a new favourite.

“We take something off and put something better on,” Florio said.

With the recent addition of a new head chef have come some changes to the menu as well.

“We were looking for a gourmet burger,” Florio said.

One of the new burgers is chicken and brie with a fig chutney, something neither he nor George had seen before.

“Our burger sales are definitely going up,” Florio said.

Florio said by having a dynamic menu and the mentality that change is OK, the restaurant keeps evolving.

“You have to have ingredients and presentations … that inspire people,” he said. “Things are homemade here, from fresh sauce to even freshly-fried tortillas [for the nachos.]”

Florio said they’re happy the community has embraced Element and put them in a position where they’re able to give back to the community, whether it’s providing space for the SculptureWalk gala or sponsoring events outside the business.

“We thank Castlegar for the support from the community,” he said.

Element is open six days a week from 11 a.m.

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