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The Story Behind Souvla: Hayes Valley’s New Greek Sandwich Shop

Charles Bililies, Founder, in front of Sebo’s old walls. (Photo: Jared Schwartz/Hayeswire)
By Jared Schwartz - Published on March 05, 2014.
Let’s talk about the new Greek sandwich shop opening up next month.

After Sebo closed its doors last October, we reported that a Greek sandwich shop named Souvla was going to take its place. We recently met with the owner of Souvla who told us how he made his dream become a reality and what you should expect once it opens. Charles Bililies has been living in the Bay Area for 8 years. Having moved here to be part of the restaurant industry, he started out in Napa as Thomas Keller's culinary assistant at The French Laundry, assisting with everything that made the place run smoothly. Along with roles at Bouchon and Michael Mina, he helped open RN74 and served as the assistant general manager of that restaurant too. Oh yeah. And he loves to cook Greek food. So where did the idea for a Greek sandwich shop come from? "I'm Greek and one of the biggest events is Greek Easter" he explained. "It's the biggest party of the year. The best part is roasting a whole lamb while hanging out and drinking all day. My Grandpa in Boston would come over at 6am and start the roasting. It seemed ridiculous at the time but now I get it." Using his Grandfather as inspiration, Charles started experimenting when he lived in the Outer Richmond and had a backyard to use as his outdoor kitchen. "My roomies and I would get a spit (large device used for roasting) and throw 4 or 5 'roasters' each year. They were all day BBQs and the highlight with the lamb." One morning after one of their roasters, he had a bunch of leftover lamb, fresh tomatoes, and thick Greek pita and decided to make a sandwich as he was cleaning up. Realizing how fresh and in-season everything tasted, he started getting the idea of opening up an affordable Greek sandwich shop since there weren't many available in the city. As his plans moved along, Hayes Valley was always his top choice of where he wanted to open up shop. Charles told us "I first fell in love with Hayes Valley in 2006 when I'd come down and visit from Napa. I had my first Blue Bottle experience and thought it was the coolest neighborhood with unique stores. It took 2 years to find the right location since we were looking all over, but I was kind of holding out for Hayes Valley." How did they end up taking Sebo's old location? "We were just very, very lucky. Right time, right place. We're very fortunate." So what should we expect on the menu? Charles wouldn't reveal too many specifics since the menu (and store) are still under construction, but he explained it will be a concise offering of 4 sandwiches (including a vegetarian option), a few side dishes, and a special dessert. They will also have a bar at the front of the store that will exclusively serve Greek beer and wine. Charles told us "similar to a taqueria where you can grab a burrito and beer, we want you to come to Souvla and get a sandwich and wine." "Our goal is to create a comfortable, affordable, and hip environment to get a tasty sandwich, have a drink, and enjoy it just as you are." As a resident of Hayes Valley, he wants to work at a place in his own neighborhood that anyone can come to for some food and fun. And what does Souvla mean? "It's Greek for the large rotisserie skewer that meat goes on. Souvlaki (Greek meat and veggies grilled on a small skewer) is just the smaller version of a souvla." Souvla will open its doors in April. Soon as we know the exact date, we'll be sure to let you know.
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