Bill Trefethen has proved he tackles his business ventures with the same tenacity as he does his fervor for extreme sporting activities. Having just returned from climbing Europe’s tallest mountain, Mont Blanc, this surfer, mountain biker, family man and Daphne’s CEO since 2010, has brought what was then Daphne’s Greek Café out of bankruptcy and triumphantly transformed the 56-chain restaurant into Daphne’s California Greek. A unique intermingling of food and coastal culture, the new Daphne’s is a restaurant, a brand and a lifestyle. As CEO of the refreshed Southern California restaurant chain, Trefethen’s innovative spirit travels far beyond their tasty food. He’s designed a Daphne’s without limits that caters to conscious eaters, up-and-coming musicians and young athletes.

Photo by Andrew Abajian (www.andrewabajian.com)

The Daphne’s transition to “Eat Well. Live Well.” has also exhibited their focus on sustainability with an updated décor. Many of the new stores feature this renewed sense of style with brightly colored recycled seating, polished bamboo tables, including a must-have, modern community table, beach photography and succulent table toppers for a fun and fresh dining experience.

Trefethen’s vision encompasses a complete experience for Daphne’s customers and is showing Orange County that this re-invented California-Mediterranean eatery is much more than your average food chain.

So how did flourishing financier Trefethen determine to tackle this mountainous career challenge? Trefethen said, “where there’s chaos, there’s opportunity, ” and the opportunity to give back to his own coastal communities is the force which drove this intrepid entrepreneur to envision the new Daphne’s.

Q: I understand you’re not necessarily a culinary whiz, so what made you interested in revamping restaurant chains? You bought then-bankrupt Daphne’s Greek Café, and I see you’ve been involved on the financing side of other chains like Burger King and Elephant Bar.
Bill Trefethen: I love restaurants, and I’ve been involved in the industry for years. What really attracted me to Daphne’s was the business model – I can see what it represents, I define it, package it, brand it and execute it. It’s a great brand in a great segment of the restaurant space. It’s the largest operator of its kind of Mediterranean food in the country.

Q: As an avid traveler who has eaten all over the world, you must have some influence on Daphne’s California Greek’s new menu items. What additions or changes have you made?
BT: What I’ve discovered about America during my travels is that you can get food from all over the world here that is almost as good as where the food originates from. Greek food in Europe is like tacos in California – you go from the clubs in Spain to grabbing gyros on the street. Hey – maybe we should have Daphne’s after-hours? It could be the new late-night, healthy alternative.

Q: I think that sounds like a fabulous idea. So what’s on the menu?
BT: My favorite thing right now is our flat bread pizzas. We have flavors like Rustic Greek, Margherita, Pepperoni and BBQ Chicken. And they would make tasty late-night snacks, too. I also love our pita burgers and classic fajitas. I eat here at least two or three times a week. The food is innovative and it travels well. There just aren’t a lot of places you can go and have a good lunch without feeling like you want to take a nap when you get back to work.

Q: I also see that you’ve made changes to the menu which resulted in an even healthier product. Tell me about the Daphne’s California Greek health-centric menu.
BT: We’ve tried to balance healthy ingredients with tasty food. We were the first to start showing the nutritional values of each item on our menus and boards even before it was required. You can have a whole meal for less than 700 calories here, and many items are well below that. Our Classic pita with grilled chicken, tomatoes, lettuce and red onion is only 370 calories. Add a side of our multigrain pita chips and hummus for 290 calories, and you’re still well below your average meal’s caloric intake.

Q: Well I’m trying to calorie count so my per-meal intake is limited to 400 calories, so I’ll go for just the Classic Pita, thank you. You, on the other hand, I’ve heard are burning calories quite regularly as an avid adventure-seeker. Were you really just in Europe climbing its tallest mountain?
BT: Yeah – I climbed Mont Blanc in the Alps. It was totally gnarly. It was the most scared I’ve ever been times 10. I grew up in Colorado and had climbed a hundred mountains, so the guide suggested the mountaineering route, assuming that I knew techniques. We started at 10, 000 feet, and half-way up the 17, 000-foot mountain as we’re looking straight down, I almost broke down and started crying. My guide said, “Isn’t the view magnificent?” And I was like “f*^@ the view!”

Q: Southern California seems to be the center of extreme sporting. I can feel the surfer-style in the new Daphne’s décor. Do you surf regularly?
BT: I surf two, three, four days a week. I live in Laguna, and have been surfing Trestles for 15 years. I head to Tavarua Island, Fiji every year with my boys. It’s like summer camp for adults. One of the other reasons I moved to Laguna was because I love to mountain bike and there are tons of trails. Sometimes I ride my bike to the Aliso Viejo Daphne’s store – it takes about 20 minutes. I’m really active in skiing and snowboarding, too. I have a house in Park City where I do a lot of back-country skiing. Awesome mountain biking up there, too. Oh, and I have that new-found thing for mountaineering … maybe I’ll go climb Mount Rainier next.

Q: Wow. And you’re managing to reinvent a 56-store restaurant chain in your spare time …
BT: I’m 40 some years old. I want to knock it out before I can’t.

Q: I can see why the incorporation of the California-lifestyle and cultural focus has been important to you in the Daphne’s rebranding. How did you come up with the concept of pairing a fast-casual restaurant with a local lifestyle?
BT: People come to the restaurant for food, so we have great food and great service. But to create a brand, you have other elements that go with it. Given our focus on a healthful lifestyle, we also want to promote healthy living activities. We think Daphne’s should be part of your healthy life.

Q: And you’ve gathered a team of celebrity ambassadors to represent this concept. Currently world surf champion Kelly Slater is part of the Daphne’s team. Tell me about what he and the rest of Team Daphne’s are doing for the company.
BT: The ambassadors, which can range from celebrities to a cool mom that’s head of the PTA, help us spread the word about the brand. We’re also building an amateur sports team around them, so Kelly mentors the team which is made up of what we believe are the best and brightest surfers in the circuit. It’s really a way to help these kids out. We’re doing the same thing in skate, snow and I’m working with club soccer to put together an all-star club soccer team. The Daphne’s brand is cool, but it’s responsibly cool for the kids and the parents. It’s a good way to give back by creatively using our dollars to help sports in our communities, and hopefully the teams and families will want to come to Daphne’s to celebrate their victories.

Q: The Daphne’s reinvention also initiated an emerging music discovery program and digital streaming music stations. Can you tell me more about your involvement with music?
BT: Music is a big part of the lifestyle element at Daphne’s. It all started, because there was such horrible music playing in all the stores, so I thought, “I’ll come up with our own playlist.” I have teenage kids and my son’s a musician so I’d ask him what’s cool and play that in our stores. Somewhere along the line, I met music producer Dave Curtin who is totally tuned in to the music world. One of his jobs is identifying new acts, so we brought him on board to create a playlist. And now we sponsor an artist every month. We give away a free download every month from our Artist of the Month (AOM). It adds to the cool factor of the brand, and it certainly makes it easier to attract cool people to work in a place that’s fun and hip.

Q: So the streaming Daphne’s music app … is it free?
BT: We created Daphne’s Radio which plays what’s really hot right now, but you can personalize it with customized playlists and it’s free. It’s really cool. You go on Pandora and type in a band and everything is kind of the same genre, so how do you find out about new stuff? What we’ve done is put together a mix of older stuff and really cutting edge alternative stuff to make a cool playlist. We also have celebrity playlists. You can stream Kelly Slater’s playlist – hear what he’s listening to – he gets about a million hits and my playlist gets about two. (laughs)

Q: Where is your favorite spot to see live music in Southern California?
BT: I like the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre. There’s also a new artist every Tuesday night at the W in Hollywood. Foster the People showed up the other night to play. Maybe Daphne’s should do its own music festival? I love watching and working with emerging artists.

Q: Sounds like another fabulous idea to me. What advice do you have for our locally emerging artists and young entrepreneurs?
BT: Don’t let people tell you, you can’t do something. Anytime someone says that to me, I push harder. I started a bank when six months prior to that, I was reading about banking by a pool in Palm Springs with the idea. You don’t always have to go the structured route to get there either, but you do need to learn good writing skills. If you can’t write, how do you write a compelling business plan? I’m investing in a lot of new and up-and-coming brands, backing local young people that are in tune to what’s going on. It’s all circular. All these elements and innovations are intangible and important in supporting our community.

Visit www.daphnes.biz for locations, music or to sign up for their Pita Points program.