Agapé Mediterranean Opens First Location in Westerville, Second Already on Deck
Agapé is putting a Mediterranean spin on the fast-casual, build-your-own concept.
Five friends and business partners have come together to open Agapé Mediterranean’s first location at 405 Polaris Pkwy. in Westerville, with plans already in the works to make it a multi-unit concept.
Each partner brings a unique set of skills and experience to the operation, setting the team up for its planned rapid growth.
Agapé’s design started with friends Johnny Baransi and Matt Morrison. Baransi has successfully started and sold a number of still-open Mediterranean restaurants around town, giving Agapé its head chef and recipe maker.
Morrison had experience with franchises, owning a number of Wingstop and Subway locations. Brandon Wright and Nick Morrison, who now handle operations for Agapé, also had experience in the franchise realm as owners and operators. Rounding out the team is Mason Estep, bringing business building experience in the beverage and restaurant tech industries.
Wright says that as multi-unit franchisees, he and the other partners often felt married to a brand and a disconnect from the culture they were able to create. Some of the cuisine also had its pitfalls.
Through Agapé, Wright and his partners could build a transparent brand. They could micro-batch products, creating healthy, affordable and accessible food for the masses. They could also build the brand’s culture from the ground up.
Agapé means unconditional love.
“Eat good food, serve good food, treat employees and customers the right way, and be involved in the community,” says Estep of the restaurant’s guiding principles.
When it comes to Agapé’s menu, everything is made-in house, aiming for a fresh, healthy and flavorful eating experience. Meals come in pita, salad or rice-based bowl form and are topped with gyro, greek chicken, chicken shawarma, falafel or veggies. Diners select one spread – hummus, spicy feta, tzatziki or baba – then get to customizing with toppings and sauces.
Sides, or Mezzes, of the spreads are also available, and then there are the fries. Diners can opt for a seasoned side order, or make it Greek with the addition of feta, parsley and the oregano and garlic forward house dressing. Fries have been an early menu favorite.
Estep notes that with its customizable approach, Agapé is friendly to a number of allergen and dietary restrictions, which are all clearly communicated on its menu.
Although the Westerville location just opened in January, Estep says they’ve heard from a number of repeat customers.
“That to me is really rewarding, but indicates we’re really doing something right,” Wright adds.
It’s just the beginning for the brand, as Estep says they built the restaurant with scalability in mind. And scale they have. Agapé already has an address for location number two – 5010 N. Hamilton Rd. in Gahanna, which is slated to open in May.
The group is actively looking in other neighborhoods as well, including Grandview, Clintonville and Dublin. While the restaurant looks to grow rapidly, Estep says they certainly won’t rush into anything. They’re focused on sites that are mobile pickup and delivery-friendly, and even looking into drive-thrus.
Estep sees that freedom of choice as the future of the fast-casual category. While online ordering and delivery were gaining traction pre-pandemic, Estep says the situation really forced that behavior change, which is here to stay.
“The pandemic seems to have really shifted the industry 5 to 10 years forward,” Estep says.
Opening in the middle of the pandemic, Agapé was able to account for this industry shift, with accommodations like a digital make line solely for online and delivery orders.
The plans for Agapé were coming together before the pandemic and Wright says while they did pause like so many other businesses, they tried not to make any major, knee-jerk decisions on changing the business plan. Wright says they focused on science and best practices. Looking at the design of the restaurant, they were already in good shape when it came to meeting social distancing guidelines.
What they did do was thoroughly outline operating policies and procedures to ensure staff and customer safety – steps that overlap with the process required to expand a concept into multiple units. Wright says their backgrounds with franchises helped them put the systems and tools in place, to design the consistent, proper messaging to deliver the same product and service across current and future Agapé locations.
Agapé is open daily from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. for dine-in, carryout, online pre-order pickup and delivery.
For more information, visit agapeeats.com.
All photos by Susan Post