Demi Kollias says she feels like she’s never slept in her life. In the last 20 years, she has owned three 7-Elevens that posted double-digit sales increases every year, three Claymont Steak Shops and a meat-processing company. And, the 7-Elevens were deep into Pennsylvania.
“I pretty much got zero sleep because it’s not only the physical work that you do, it’s the mental work. When you’re the person who is in charge, you’re always trying to predict the next step, especially when you have to deal with a 24-hour operation, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” she said. “The first day that I didn’t have to be on the Blue Route at 5 o’clock in the morning, it felt like I was going through space or something. I thought, ‘What was I doing all these years?’”
Nowadays, Kollias has cut back to operating three steak shops, including a new one on Concord Pike, and the meat-processing company. She and her attorney-husband also are raising two daughters, a Tufts freshman and a Tower Hill senior.
Kollias relied on help from her mother, who helped rear her daughters, and her in-laws, who lent her the money to get started — at slightly more than the bank interest rate at the time.
“For me, it was 100 times easier with my mother, who is my angel, living with us all these years, helping me. I felt so comfortable that it was my mother. I knew she would love them and take care of them — and teach them Greek,” Kollias said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my Mom. I’m not a super-woman.”
“My father-in-law was my bank,” she said. “Some people said, ‘Oh, she has a rich family. They gave her everything.’ No, that’s not true. My family was my own personal bank — but we definitely paid them back.”
Being a young woman with an M.B.A. meant some differences in management style from the uncle who sold her the first Claymont Steak Shop in 2005. He was old school; she had learned computer inventory at 7-Eleven and planned to use sophisticated programs to track everything. “He almost didn’t sell me the restaurant,” she said.
Kollias and her husband are co-owners, but she runs the operation. She said her entrepreneurial style is to take less risk than she is able to take. “I like more stable and small, secure steps rather than jumping the staircase three steps at a time,” she said. “Where I am right now, we have over 100 employees, so I have to think about them and their families too.”
With a to-do list at the ready on her nightstand, Kollias says she always has a project for the future. Will she be part of the 5.2 percent growth the National Restaurant Association predicts for Delaware in 2016? Not likely. It’s her daughter’s senior year, she said.