Get to know: Stephen Gellas

Published 11:52 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If you want to put down a place of birth for Stephen Gellas, officially it would be New Jersey, but it would be more accurate to say Stephen was born, raised and flourished in restaurants up and down the East Coast.

Today, the owner of Primo 116 and Pisces in downton Suffolk has successfully navigated the treacherous world of restaurants to be the owner and operator of two successful and acclaimed eateries. But while you may consider him successful, do not consider him content.

“I’ve got one idea, but we are just going to wait a bit,” Gellas said recently. “Right now, our focus is on ensuring the success of Primo and Pisces.”

Given the opportunity to sit with Gellas, it doesn’t take long to feel the passion he has for his business and appreciate the intellect this Georgetown finance major applies to his craft.

“I came up through the ranks of this business,” the industry-trained chef said. “I can appreciate today because of the dues I had to pay in the industry I love.”

After working a number of years in corporate restaurants, Gellas and his wife, Margaret, had moved to North Suffolk and were looking for their next opportunity.

A little more than five years ago, the couple opened the seafood restaurant Rose Bay in Chesapeake. Gellas said they were doing well, but were later approached to open another restaurant in downtown Suffolk — a decision Gellas now looks back upon proudly.

“I think we were ahead of the curve in moving to downtown at the time,” Gellas said. “When we opened Pisces, there really wasn’t the number of restaurants downtown for people to enjoy as there are today.”

Gellas later sold Rose Bay, focusing his attention on Pisces and later Primo 116, an addition he said led to the most satisfying moment in his career.

Primo 116 is a high-end restaurant focusing on northern Italian cuisine, and it took nearly two years to become a reality.

“We bought the building and really had to work to get it open,” Gellas said of the West Washington Street location. “It took almost two years to build it out.

“The ceiling is original, and the floor is original. Everything else we did.”

After Gellas graduated from Georgetown, his late father, Gus, who himself had operated a restaurant in New Jersey for five decades, asked Stephen for one promise.

“He asked me to promise him that I would never go into the restaurant business,” Gellas said. “I made the promise, but six months later I was right back in it.”

Gellas said that after opening Primo 116, he had the opportunity to bring his father down from New Jersey.

“I can remember him walking into Primo and turning to me and saying ‘This is where you belong,’” Gellas said. “That was it. That was the most satisfying moment of my career. I started to really well up.”

Nearly every night, you can find Gellas cooking each and every dish that comes from Primo’s kitchen, as well as each Monday during lunch at Pisces.

Stephen and Margaret may not have any children today, but he says there isn’t a need.

“Children? We have three cats and two restaurants.” ←