Back to tradition: pork and chicken now the most popular choices of meat.
How gyros suddenly became cool and hip in Sydney.
Growing up in Sydney, my generation (1980s) used to excitedly wait for parents or relatives to take us to the ‘yeeros’ shop for a treat. And how appetising they were, satisfying the tastebuds and that early evening hunger! Sydney had a number of gyros shops back then, from Beverly Hills to Newtown. Then one day they started closing, leaving only a small group to trade in Kingsgrove, Marrickville and Coogee. As time marched on, they became icons and a nod to our childhoods.
Fast forward to 2015 and Sydney has experienced a renaissance, a revolution. Over the past 12 months there has been a real trend, a rush, for gyros shops to spring up across the areas of Sydney with a traditional Greek population.
This rush has been welcomed by many a grateful Greek and traveller to the Greek world. For you see, it has become fashionable to be Greek again, and just as fashionable to be eating one of the best exports of modern Greece.
Sydney resident Anthony Mathews and his parea told me recently that when they were growing up, they occasionally struggled for acceptance to be ‘Greek,’ sometimes hiding their identity. Yet over the years, I was told, “as more people from Australia have gone to Greece or Cyprus, they have seen how incredible it is. They have sat at a gyros table and enjoyed it, now they want to relive it.”
This statement can go a long way to explain the recent boom. Perhaps as the mining boom has come to a close, we now have a ‘boom’ in the Greek gyros industry of Sydney.
At the start of 2014, I can recall having a gyros with my friend Arthur Selimiotis, with whom I had been to Greece many times. We reminisced about how good the old style ‘yeeros’ experience was in Sydney, though it would be amazing to truly replicate what the Greek islands offer. From my experience, I have had gyros in places such as Byzantium Cafe and Westfield in London or Astoria in New York and I wondered when the modern gyros would make its way to Sydney.
What is a gyros?
For the uninitiated, gyros in Sydney is usually served in a large pita bread with tomato, onion and tzatziki (unless you have to return to the office). And you are usually greeted by a hard working owner who migrated to Australia all those years ago to try their luck in this country.
Enter my favourite gyros shop from my childhood (Charcoal Chickens and Yeeros, Kingsgrove) and you will be met by a vertical ‘souvla’ which turns, operated by an electric broiler. All the gyros shops have this as a standard way of operating and making gyros. And for the last 16 years, the two brothers, Nick and Archie Mihalatos, and their family have been delivering a fine traditional Greek Aussie gyros offering with beef and chicken.
Just down the road in Kingsgrove, which is undergoing a Greek renaissance itself with the opening of Greek owned shops, a different gyros outlet has opened, Kefi. This one offers more of the modern Greece variety, with smaller pita bread. Marrickville was the only other suburb which had two gyros shops, although rumour has it that Mascot will soon have a second and as I type Brighton can now add The Hellenic as the second gyros outlet.
As an aside, gyros was most likely developed by the Greek speakers of Bursa (Turkey) in the 1800s. The Greek refugees brought this across to Greece in the 1920s.
Turkish people themselves are exponents of the ‘kebab’, which is similar to that of the old style Sydney gyros, though they use thinner bread, tabouli and homous as a staple of their offering.
MEET, OR SHOULD I SAY MEAT, SOME OF THE GYROS REVOLUTIONARIES
I laughed when one of the owners, Con Boucas, of the Belmore based Yiro Yiro Greek Street Food which opened in late 2014. told me that occasionally customers “walk in and ask for a kebab”.
“We politely explain the difference between the two and how kebab is a whole different product on the Greek menu,” he says.
Con is an example of the new breed of Greek gyros owners. Firstly, his business doesn’t use the name ‘yeeros’, it is using the more internationally known term of gyros/yiro. This version of the name is especially famous in the Balkans and North America.
The new style of owner seems to have a wide array of career pathways and owns the business with multiple partners, usually younger people. Con has managed a juice bar in Gibraltar and told me that he was once a stand-up comic in Kos; having seen a YouTube clip of him two years ago, I know he does bring a sense of joy and entertainment to his workplace. This sentiment was echoed by Katrina, a young migrant from Greece, who seems to relish an environment where staff and customers are happy to share a unique experience – the gyros experience.
As a fan of the Bulldogs, and being in the heart of the Bulldogs territory, it was reassuring to see that the magazi (shop) acknowledges the make-up of its suburb, with an array of graffiti art adorning the walls (Belmore is known for graffiti art) and images of the team insignia. Disappointingly, Con actually supports another team!
I was in Mytilene in 2014 having a frappé with my old school friend and fellow Bulldogs fan, Chris. He had some news to tell me.
“Billy… (I waited patiently for his excitement to calm down), I’m finally doing it, I am going to open up a gyros outlet,” he said.
It was music to my ears, as I could see how enthusiastic Chris is for Greek culinary delights, and the fact that he was in finance and a manager of NRL stars such as Ben Roberts, I wondered how he would fit it all in. My doubts were eradicated when I visited Plateia – Where Friends Meet in Potts Point.
What makes this a unique business is that it is out of the suburban heartland of Sydney and in the city, near the main nightclub area where Greek speakers are few. This was the brain child of his wife, Pamela Rogaris, who has led the way as she sought a change from the mundane routine of office work. For her it was a chance to establish a family business and to have daily interaction in one of the busiest areas of Sydney. Thus far, it has been the best achievement of her work life and one she has no regrets about. Her smile is there for all to witness including her three other business partners.
As to be expected with a gyros business, locals and tourists have flocked to Plateia, which has been trading since December. Many have been to Athens and sat at Monastiraki munching on gyros and now they have replicated this mouth-watering taste on their trip Down Under. Forget having a kangaroo meal, one tourist told me, “I really enjoy these pocket fillings any day of the week. It is like Athens meets Sydney when I eat these.”
Zeus! This is a name that immediately conjures up all sorts of images. The mythical God and the man with a long white beard and special powers. I recall a Persian friend recommending to me this new eatery in Drummoyne, near the water in late June last year (when it had first opened). The name of course stuck and when I interviewed one of the owners, Peter Augoustis, it soon become apparent why my friend recommended this place.
Peter arrived in Sydney 18 years ago from Canada, making him slightly different to other Greek or Sydney-born business owners. He brought along his knack of creating a successful business tinged with fun and a sense of creating a customer experience. A founder of the successful pizza franchise, Crust, Peter along with another six partners took the plunge to open an ‘experience’. This experience is creating a story, a purpose for each item on the menu. The more Peter spoke, the more you could tell that he had a sense of passion for what he was creating.
His staff at Zeus are given a real grounding on the story behind each food item. It is about truly understanding the service they provide, and that service is ensuring a quality experience by those who visit.
In keeping with the trend of the new breed, Peter is a young man with a long-term belief in what he creates. Having eaten at his previous pizza shop, I know
the results are always there. He reminded me of a poignant fact. “The Mediterranean diet has been healthy and famous for thousands of years.” This is a diet that people always seem to return to. I might say they boomerang back to; you can’t substitute quality and if you flick through their menu, just like most of the gyros shops, you will find a vast array of healthy Greek items to consume.
I recall almost a year ago pulling up at Traditional Gyradiko in Bexley and seeing a line that stretched around the corner. It was a little chilly and people waited patiently to sample the new product that promised a taste of Greece. There were a few of us in the group that night and being hungry, and impatient, we drove on to Marrickville for a gyros. We would have to wait until the Beatles-like hysteria calmed down before venturing to eat there a few months later for a filling pork gyros, ‘me apola’ (with everything)! Pork is the traditional meat of the Greek gyros.
This has been one of the new additions to the traditional gyros menu, the pork, which is the big seller in Greece. Kostas Giannakaros, who along with his business partner Peter Bouzalakos, runs Gyradiko and Taxidi restaurant next door. Kostas is in every sense a pioneer and one that many are thankful for.
Having helped establish Souvlaki Bar in Brighton two decades ago, he subsequently went to Lemnos and from there opened a number of gyradika across Greece.
“I have owned and established 14 of them and it was my belief that the Greek style of gyros would work in Sydney,” he told me. His results have thus far borne fruit as the first person to introduce the ‘new’ gyros in April last year.
What I have witnessed up close at Gyradiko is the all-imported Greek products; from the yoghurt all the way to the herbs, everything is from Greece. There is no stopping Kostas as he seeks to establish a business in Rosebery and in Brisbane. This pioneer has a busy time ahead.
Similar to what I found with all the new gyros- style shops, you can find a number of new migrants from Greece. In fact, in Syntagma last year I recall having a conversation with a young man at Pita Pan who had recently returned from working in a Gold Coast gyros shop. He told me, “just wait until these shops open in Sydney, they will be well received”. And he was correct.
Gyradiko ensures that the style of food is like being in Greece and you have the Greek music playing in the background, as most of the new shops are. This is something I always liked about the traditional Souvlaki Bar in Brighton, my fix of Greek music and a gyros served by someone talking to me in Greek.
A different style of menu
My friend Andre Paschali and his girlfriend Victoria Hill assure me there have been eleven new entries to the revolution these past few months. And as I write this article from Traditional GRK Souvlaki in Mascot, my head was spinning as I tried to fathom how many more gyros plates (without smashing) I could eat as part of my undercover research for this article. I quickly settled into a Greek salad to balance my consumption.
At the end of my research, I can tell you I have gained a good 10 kilos. It has been worth it as I sample the new gyros with smaller, thicker pita bread, generally with an insert of chips, tzatziki, tomato and of course I prefer it with mustard. Try it, if only to ensure the mustard drips on to your shirt, making you look a little foolish. Another reason not to return to the office.
Most of the gyros shops offer a wide variety of Greek food to keep their customers happy, everything from feta chips to souvlaki. Some have developed combo varieties which have been well received and at least one (Plateia) has introduced a delivery service.
As I sat in Earlwood, one of the Greek hotspots of Sydney, I was pleasantly surprised to listen to the stories of Andrew Mathews, Peter Bazos and Greg
Haimandos. They had been to every one of the new Greek gyros shops, in fact I had bumped in to them at EAT GRK at Beverly Hills the previous week on their odyssey. Whilst their waistlines had not expanded as mine has, they, like many Greek speakers in Sydney, have welcomed the growth of gyros shops. And with more to open on the horizon, including Newtown and Cronulla, all that I could say was, viva la yeeros/gyros revolution and hello Weightwatchers.