For nearly 20 years, George Georgiou was the consummate restaurateur in Kamloops - warm, sociable and well-known through his successful Minos Restaurant in North Kamloops.
There was Georgiou as seen in numerous TV commercials - the gracious host to local diners, smashing plates around the hearth in customary Greek fashion with other well-known residents.
Then, Georgiou disappeared faster than a plate of calamari. He left town about a week ago and hasn't been seen since. Even staff at the Tranquille Road establishment were surprised by his quick exit.
Georgiou didn't respond to a message left on his cellphone on Thursday. His lawyer and friend said the restaurateur is probably lying low because he's embarrassed over media speculation surrounding his departure.
The house he shares with his wife is for sale and neighbours said they believe the Georgious intend to move back to Montreal to be closer to their sons.
"He's helped people out," said one neighbour who didn't want to be named. "It just seems really unfair. Someone's selling their business and moving away. Leave him alone."
It's not as simple as that, said Georgiou's business acquaintances, some who claim Georgiou has outstanding debts with a number of companies in town.
"Are you kidding? He hasn't got the gum to come back here," said Eric Mayrhoffer, whose family has owned the property leased to Georgiou for many years.
"He (has) just left everybody holding the bag," said Gus Krokos, one of the partners who bought back the restaurant business sold to Georgiou in the 1990s. "I know he doesn't have any plans to come back."
Dave McMillan, Georgiou's lawyer and friend, said his client had good reason to leave Kamloops quickly. Georgiou moved Minos to a waterfront location a couple of years ago, in partnership with another restaurateur, but the venture failed and he had to return to the Tranquille location.
"George is a great restaurateur, but kind of a naïve businessman, and he got sold a bill of goods," McMillan said. "It was an absolute unmitigated disaster for much of the past year. He was quite embarrassed."
There was some financial loss as well. When a former boss from Montreal offered him a partnership in a restaurant there last month, Georgiou jumped at it.
"It was a gold-plated opportunity, so he went out very quickly . Unfortunately for him, he couldn't do it at his own pace."
McMillan said outstanding debts are common in the restaurant sector with lots of creditors and a high rate of failure. Debt is often covered off in purchase and sale agreements, he said.
Minos Restaurant, meanwhile, will continue to operate as before. It's long been one of the most popular restaurants in town. They will honour gift certificates issued on or after March 11, when Krokos took over.