SouvlaSF: The Greek Ambrosia


Being away from home someone would certainly miss local traditions and tastes. San Francisco is a great town to live in with many restaurants, but looking for Greek food could be hard especially if you are a Souvlaki lover like myself.

Last week I received a call from a friend to go check out a new place in Hayes Valley called Souvla. The name was very tempting but I didn’t have high hopes until I went in. But enough about my experience, let me introduce you to Charles S. Bililies the chief cook of Souvla.

You might think that he is another typical Greek that jumped into the food business but reading further will definitely prove you wrong.

Charles was born outside of Boston to Greek parents. His mother was born in Brazil but moved to Greece and grew up in Chalandri(suburb in the Northern part of Athens) and his father is outside of Boston as well.

His family has roots from Mani(central peninsula of the three which extend southwards from the Peloponnese in southern Greece).

Charles, due to the Greek culture, was exposed into cooking at a young age and was involved in cooking and restaurants while in college.  At the time he was not thinking of spending his life in a kitchen and could never thought where life would take him next.

But after all this exposure, one day he had an epiphany to take the road to a culinary adventure. After college he transferred to Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island for a culinary program. At the same time he was in an externship with Ritz Carlton Hotel and had more involvement into fine dining. He completed his Bachelors in Ithaca and after graduation he decided to move to Napa Valley, California where he  worked as a culinary assistant for famous chef Thomas Keller in his landmark restaurant  “French Laundry”.

While working there he wore many hats and learned all parts of the business starting from the kitchen and later becoming a Dining Room Manager where he helped design manager training programs alongside with Thomas Keller.

In 2008, Charles decided to move to San Francisco and work with another famous chef, Michael Mina. He helped open the well known wine bar RN74 and was offered the role of Assistant General Manager.

Charles was enjoying his career life as much as his home in San Francisco where he had a beautiful back yard to relax, but not for long. A flashback from his childhood years and the Greek celebrations with roasting lamb in the backyard, Charles had an epiphany. Him and his roommate used the backyard for barbecues with a Greek twist. He purchased a rotisserie, ordered lamb, pig and goat and had a Greek feast with his guests. Only rule was to bring something you cooked or baked, along with a new friend.

Next day after the big party, Charles would have to clean and often wondered how come nothing like a Greek traditional rotisserie is not available in San Francisco, especially because there’s a great meat, cheese and vegetable produce and that’s when the idea was born for SouvlaSF.

By now you know that Charles took the fine dining culinary road and you might wonder what does he know of traditional roasting. Think twice before you make the assumption, as he was taught in college through a program called Meat Science how to proceed from live cattle to whole sale retail, so he knows everything that a Greek oldschool grandfather knows.

All this knowledge between traditional and modern inspired Charles to open SouvlaSF and revolutionize the Souvlaki experience. He designed the store to have a modern look and a traditional feeling. The pots that decorate the store are the same his grandfather had in a restaurant in Boston and the photo decor are from Greece and each one has a story.

In the second week of operations SouvlaSF is welcoming groups from typical Greeks to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Saturday nights feel like a traditional flea market area in Athens called Monastiraki.

The next steps for SouvlaSF is to focus more into delivering the great experience to the community and next year throw a big party that would involve Magiritsa (a Greek soup with lamb heart and liver) and Kokoretsi (lamb hearts, lungs and kidneys).

After thanking Charles and his team for opening the doors early for me, I ordered a lamb souvlaki which to best describe how great and 100% like home the taste feels, I would say: SouvlaSF is definitely the Ambrosia that people are looking for and it’s not dripping olive oil, it’s dripping Greece.