When cousins Lazaros Arnaoutidis and Sam Karagiozis first found themselves in talks about the conception of their business Souvlaki GR, they weren’t thinking on a small scale, and now, less than two years on, they’re proving that it wasn’t just talking.
After introducing the humble souvlaki – done the Greek way sans lettuce, in a warm pita with tzatziki, tomato, onion and chips – to Thornbury, they have spread their offering to Melbourne’s bustling bayside suburb of St Kilda, and in just over a month it’s fair to say it has already attained local haunt status.
Lazaros was born in Ptoleimaida in northern Greece, and while he has introduced Greek nuances to the eatery, he says they have essentially merged the best of Greece and Australia to create something different for customers.
“The cooking is on charcoal, horizontal, with different flavouring, which doesn’t really exist in Greece – actually there are a few places in Greece starting to do that now – and we’ve combined that with the Greek serving of the souv, which is wrapping it in the hand with all the show that is involved and the speed as well,” he says.
With both sites fitted out with open kitchens, the theatrics in the kitchen at Souvlaki GR are very much apart of the dining experience, with wrappers who can wrap between four to five souvs in 60 seconds flat.
While pork is the standard souv option in Greece, here in Australia Lazaros has noted more and more customers are branching out, but admits lamb continues to be their best seller, the local meat of choice a habit that’s not easy to break.
“Most of our customers that are fresh off the boat, like me, go for the pork. But 70 per cent of customers are used to lamb, and food is part of habit, so people are not willing to change that,” Lazaros told Neos Kosmos.
The cousins pride themselves on the freshness and quality of their product, the menu featuring house-marinated lamb, pork and chicken, along with loukaniko and calamari options. Dips, including tzatziki, tirokafteri, tarama, eggplant, and skoradalia are all made on site, along with dolmades, freshly cut salads, and chips and saganaki cooked to perfection.
But aside from the quality, Lazaros says what really sets them apart and completes the Souvlaki GR experience is their approach to customer service, which truly is his domain.
After pursuing studies in engineering, his work experience eventually led him down another path to managing a coffee roasting company in Greece and saw him fall in love with hospitality, which he admits he never saw coming.
“I never thought I would end up in hospitality, but now that I’m doing it, I’m actually loving it because I’ve always been very sociable. I think that’s what makes us stand out – it’s our customer service; everyone has a smile on their face and they’re happy to help.”
Pop by one of their stores to experience it firsthand, or for convenience order online and have your souv delivered to your door.
Meanwhile watch this space to see where they spread their filoxenia, and love of food next.
Souvlaki GR is located at 665 High St, Thornbury and 78 Acland St, St Kilda. Stay up-to-date at facebook.com/pg/thesouvlakiGR