The donair, a Haligonian delicacy for 52 years

Posted on July 21, 2023 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments


An authentic donair made with beef, tomatoes, onion and donair sauce, all wrapped in pita bread (photo credit: Mr. Donair)


Thinly shaved beef, tomatoes and raw onions wrapped in pita bread, dripping with its signature sweet and tangy sauce—that’s an authentic donair. Invented in Halifax over 50 years ago, the donair has since become a classic Canadian treat now enjoyed from coast to coast.

The invention

While there is some controversy surrounding the story of the donair, most accounts begin in the 1960s when brothers Peter and John Gamoulakos immigrated from Greece to Canada. After opening Velo’s Pizza in Bedford, N.S., Peter decided to add a taste of home to the menu in the form of a traditional Greek gyro. However, the unfamiliar flavours of lamb and tzatziki were not popular with locals, so Gamoulakos got creative.

Peter replaced the lamb with beef and concocted a new sauce using sweetened condensed milk, vinegar and garlic powder. When asked for the name of his new creation, he saw the word ‘doner’ printed on a meat rotisserie and went with that. Over time, ‘doner’ became ‘donair’.

As the story goes, the first-ever donair was served at Velo’s Pizza in 1971 and was an instant hit.


An interview with John Gamoulakos about his brother Peter creating the first donair (video credit: Mr. Donair on YouTube)


Scaling operations

This is where the story gets complicated. Peter’s next move involved opening a chain of restaurants with donair in the name. There are those who claim this started with King of Donair on Quinpool Road in 1973, however, some records imply that Peter opened restaurants later in the ‘70s under the name Mr. Donair. Over time, the restaurants appear to have been consolidated under the King of Donair brand, but the exact details are a mystery.

In 1985, Peter and John shifted their focus. Instead of serving hot and ready donairs smothered in sauce waiting to drip down your chin, they opened a manufacturing facility to produce pita cones and donair sauce for restaurants. This was done under the Mr. Donair brand.

As the business grew, Mr. Donair partnered with Tony’s Meats in 1995 to help produce its retail and food service products and expand beyond Nova Scotia. Tony’s Meats eventually acquired the Mr. Donair brand from John Gamoulakos in 2005.


A book detailing the history of the donair, written by Lindsay Wickstrom (photo credit: Chris Stoodley/


Regional flavours

As the donair gained popularity across Canada, many regions added their own spin to the original recipe. For example, in New Brunswick, a donair has always had lettuce. In Alberta, they stick with the authentic-style spiced beef sliced from a rotisserie but have developed their own version of donair sauce. Some restaurants also add cheese to the dish. Plus, there’s a “super donair” that includes cheese and pepperoni.

However, an authentic donair is found in Nova Scotia where it originated. In fact, in 2015, the donair was voted to be the official food of Halifax.


A selection of Mr. Donair’s products for retail and food service (photo credit: Mr. Donair)


Still expanding

Today, Tony’s Meats continues to expand Mr. Donair’s geographic reach and product line. Its retail line now includes sauce, meat, pizza, build-your-own kits, jerky sticks and more. Plus the brand sells a variety of food service products to restaurants across Canada. Now focused on expansion into the U.S., Mr. Donair recently acquired its first customer in Maine.

When asked about bringing the donair to new markets, Aaron Tingley, international business development manager commented: “Everybody likes to put their own spin on the donair, so we just have fun expanding the original and hope that people enjoy it.”


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