It’s not a stretch to say that was the only sit-down, full-service restaurant in Lorton for a long time. That’s not the case anymore with the transformation of the Lorton area in the last decade, but Polo Grill’s owners say growth is good for everyone.
Mike Kiros and Archie Zaro have been running Polo Grill since 2008, taking over from Alexandria restaurateur Ralph Davis, who had run it since 1991. Polo Grill was opened in 1989 by American Bar-B-Que & Catering, which is still operates on Telegraph Road in Lorton.
Not much has changed on the outside of the Gunston Plaza Shopping Center mainstay since it opened. Some touches of the “polo” décor remain on the inside, mostly framed prints on the wall, but Kiros and Zaro have put their own stamp on the business. Gone are the paper mache horses and the funkier touches that Davis put in to make the restaurant seem a little less formal. Now there are colorful oil paintings, plants and a few Greek statues, a nod to the current owners’ heritage.
The menu has changed as well. It now features Greek and Italian food, as well as American favorites, although the owners did keep a few popular dishes from the old days, including She Crab Soup and Crawfish and Shrimp Etoufee. They also added breakfast on weekends, as part of their efforts to make Polo Grill a family restaurant.
The owners are both Greek immigrants who came to the United States to make better lives for themselves. Kiros arrived in 1973 as a teenager, only understanding “yes” and “no” in English, and found the restaurant business welcoming to a newcomer. Zaro was in his early 30s when he came to the United States 18 years ago. “I came to see the freedom,” he said. People would say, “this is the best country,” he noted.
Both men learned the restaurant business from the ground up, washing dishes, mopping floors, doing whatever it took. Kiros previously owned restaurants in Washington, D.C., and Alexandria before teaming with Zaro to take over Polo Grill. Kiros didn’t know the Lorton area and Zaro only knew about it from driving by. But they knew Lorton had changed and they hoped to take advantage of being in an up-and-coming area. They also liked the location, being close to Fort Belvoir and Interstate 95.
The restaurant had developed a loyal following from locals in Lorton and Mason Neck as well as along Route 1 down to Mount Vernon, with business from Amtrak Auto Train riders as well. Polo Grill still has customers who have been dining there for 10-15 years, the owners say, but their future is pinned on the development of Laurel Hill, growth at Fort Belvoir and the eventual opening of the Inova Lorton Healthplex.
Business has been up and down, reflecting the difficult economic times. But Kiros said he knows they will survive.
“Our goal is to make people feel right at home,” Kiros said. “When you do things right you can bring people in.”
Previous owner Davis said “They’re survivors. They’ll make it work,” he said.
7784 Gunston Plaza, 703-550-0002. Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on weekends. Prices range from $5.29 for a grilled cheese sandwich to $19.99 for a rib-eye steak.
Owners’ favorites: Kiros likes his Greek specialties such as Mousaka (layers of potatoes, ground beef and eggplant, topped with a special Bechamel sauce, served with a salad and bread for $12.99) and Lamb Kapama (lamb shank from a homemade recipe over a bed of rice with salad and bread for $12.99) If you want Italian, he recommends the Veal Parmigiana. His American go-to is the Rib-eye Steak.
Zaro likes seafood, recommending the Southern Fried Catfish, Maryland Select Oysters and the Crab Cakes.