Editor's Note: Our Sunday restaurant feature "Dining in Douglas" this week spotlights The Olive Tree, which opened in 1994 in Lithia Springs and has expanded to locations in Villa Rica and Hiram.
Each room at the Olive Tree reflects its Greek and Italian influences.
When first entering, guests walk through a small patio, complete with a brick wall, wide open windows and pictures of Italy and Greece on the walls. A small side dining area separates itself from the main room via a few steps and a wooden rail, giving guests an overlook of the restaurant.
Both the side area and the main dining room feature rich creamy walls and wooden accents. Deep red curtains line the windows. A full bar sits front and center of the main dining room.
Off to the side sits the banquet room, open to guests with large groups. If a group of 25 or more people want the room, there is no charge. A smaller group will be charged a $150 fee.
Overall, the restaurant can seat around 150 guests.
Owner Mike Atsalis, originally from Chios, Greece, along with his wife Teresa, reside in Douglasville and oversee their three restaurants.
“We have managers on each one of them but we oversee all of them,” said Mike. “I live in this area so I wanted to come out here.”
This is not Mike’s first time with a restaurant, either.
“I have five restaurants for 25 years in Atlanta,” said Mike. “They were five small deli subs in Atlanta called Michael’s Deli.”
This experience helped Mike perfect his food choices so by the time the Olive Tree came around, it was ready to go.
“He was the first restaurant in this shopping center when it was built,” said Teresa. “He thought 'bringing it right here next to I-20, an industrial area, was a good spot.”
The married couple of 13 years has established a strong customer service, a variety of food items and an assortment of performances and entertainment.
Their Villa Rica restaurant features a dinner theater while the Lithia Springs restaurant showcases Frank Sinatra nights and Greek night, complete with belly dancers and authentic folk Greek dances.
“It varies,” said Mike. “It is usually on Saturday but it is two or three times a year.”
Head Chef Yianni Spanoudakis has mastered the Olive Tree’s menus, which include a lunch menu, a dinner menu and two catering menus.
Spanoudakis has been cooking for 45 years and is a graduated culinary student. He joined in with Mike and Teresa after working with them when the restaurant first opened and hasn’t looked back.
“I have worked at hotels and resorts,” said “Spanoudakis. “I worked here part-time while I was working at the Georgia World Congress Center and after a while, I ended up coming here full-time.”
While Spanoudakis has helped shape the menu over the years, credit also goes towards Mike’s family as well as others who have chimed in over the years.
“Mike has Greek recipes from his mom and his sister and everybody,” said Teresa. “When he first opened here, he had a gentleman from Argentina that had the homemade lasagna recipes.”
“When we first started, we had this Italian chef Pablo,” added Mike. “He brought his recipes and then me and Yianni created the Greek menu. Pablo created the Italian.”
The lunch and dinner menus provide a large array of options for guests. They are broken down into appetizers, salads, Greek favorites, Italian favorites, chicken, seafood, veal and steaks, pizza and subs. A kid’s menu is also available. All of the food is homemade and none of it is pre-packaged or frozen.
A healthy, alternative option with grilled food items is also open for guests. According to Teresa Atsalis, Tanner Medical Center adopted the menu due to its low calorie count and healthy food choices.
The Olive Tree can prepare a variety of other healthy dishes for guests, including gluten free items.
“A lot of people, when they go to an Italian restaurant, they think ‘pasta and bread,’” said Teresa. “We have healthy options. If someone is gluten free, if they let us know, we can figure it out. We don’t have it marked on the menu but we are accustomed to it and we can prepare specialty dishes.”
Throughout the years, the Atsalis couple and Spanoudakis added food items that the customers appeared to enjoy.
“It was trial and error,” said Teresa. “We built our menu on customers, what they asked and what Yianni knows.”
“We have had some items that we run as specials and then end up putting on the menu later on,” noted Spanoudakis. “We try to create interest.”
While the Olive Tree has a wide variety of lunch and menu specials that change everyday, the one constant is the Maryland crab cakes, which are made every Tuesday.
“Mike’s cousin in Maryland … owns the Olive Grove restaurant and he has this recipe up there,” explained Teresa. “Mike convinced him to share it with us.”
Along with the two main menus for the restaurant, the Olive Tree provides two separate catering menus.
“One is simple, everyday lunch catering that we do to businesses,” explained Mike. “We also have a wedding and event menu.”
The staff is even prepared to deliver and serve the food if needed. A minimum order of around 15 orders is necessary for delivery.
Mike and Teresa also specialize in an event venue located in Villa Rica called The Venue. It is open to weddings and parties and features over 4,000-square-feet.
“We cater either by us or if they want another caterer,” said Mike.
The Olive Tree’s alcohol menu is no exception to the wide variety available to guests. Red and white wine from Italy, France, Argentina, California and Greece, beer, spirits and cocktails make up the bulk of the menu. However, the full service bar is able to create requests from guests.
“If you go out hungry, it’s all your fault,” said Teresa. “I don’t think you are going to find good quality food for the price [elsewhere]. We are good at that. We want to make [the customers] feel like they made the right choice when they came here. We like to make everyone feel like you are at our dinner table since you can’t be in our house."
The Olive Tree
Open Since: April 1994
Owners: Mike and Teresa Atsalis
Location: 849 Thornton Road, Lithia Springs, GA 30122
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Phone Number: 770-948-1288
*Side note: The Olive Tree has two other locations: 37 Beatty St., Hiram, GA 30141, and 150 Stone St., Villa Rica, GA 30180. The Villa Rica location is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays and features a buffet.