Local business owners bring a taste of Greece to Prince Albert with newest franchise

OPA! franchisee Muhammad Qureshi (right) helps out with an order during the OPA! Grand Opening on Dec. 14. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert businessman Muhammad Qureshi and business partner Khurram Ashraf looked to the Mediterranean for their latest opportunity.

Qureshi and Ashraf held the grand opening for their new OPA! of Greece franchise in the Cornerstone District on Dec. 14. Qureshi said he was encouraged by the strong customer support on the first day.

“I think it’s a very good response from the community. I’m pretty happy with that,” he said.

“Everybody has tried OPA when they went to Saskatoon, so they already know what the menu is and what type of food it is, and believe me, when we were doing construction over there, people were waiting (to) come in and open the doors.”

OPA! is the second Prince Albert restaurant businesses Qureshi has a stake in. He is already a franchisee for the Edo Japan franchise in the East Flat, a business he’s overseen for the last five years.

Qureshi lives in Prince Albert, but makes a point of visiting food courts and new developments in Saskatoon to see what kind of food options are available. Those visits convinced him Prince Albert lacked a good Greek food option, and got him interested in bringing OPA! to the City.

“This was the kind of food that was missing in PA,” he said. “That’s the thing that I wanted people looking at. That makes me believe that when I bring OPA to PA, it’ll be a good success.”

Qureshi started the process to opening a OPA! franchise in PA about one year ago. He said the location was key, and when he heard an opportunity was available in the Cornerstone area, he took it.

“Cornerstone is the main heart of the business (area) right now,” he said. “OPA! was in my mind for about a couple of years, but I was only interested in opening in Cornerstone. The moment I got the location, OPA was also looking for a franchisee, so all of those things came up together. They were looking for a franchise, and they had a spot in line. I was looking for a good spot over there. I had a plan in mind, so all things came together.”

The restaurant industry was one of the hardest hit during COVID. Before 2020, only 12 per cent of restaurants were losing money, but a November 2023 report from Restaurants Canada showed 51 per cent were losing money. Restaurant bankruptcies were also up by about 50 per cent during the first five months of year.

Qureshi said COVID made patrons a bit pickier about where they choose to eat. He’s confident restaurants will remain profitable if they have good food, good staff, and are clean.

“If the restaurant is doing good, making good food, and they are maintaining their standards, people want to come back, and they come back even in the COVID times,” he said.

Prince Albert is the fourth Saskatchewan city to open an OPA! franchise. OPA! marketing director Mike MacDonald said they ‘re impressed with the community response.

“We’re looking at the smaller communities and realizing there’s a great opportunity for the OPA brand. It’s just been incredible, the support we’ve received,” he said.

“It’s really great to see the community supporting us, but also, it’s great to have a partner in the market like (Qureshi and Ashraf) who knows what they’re doing in the experience.”

The first OPA! location opened in Calgary 25 years ago. Since then, it has grown to more than 110 locations from B.C. to Ontario.

The Prince Albert location is at Suite 220, 800—15th Street East.