When Tasos Perdikis and Aris Doukas met a few years back – the two men were working at the same restaurant, although not in the kitchen – they bonded over their love of food. As Tasos tells it, they were both obsessed with souvlaki.
Almost immediately they started making future plans to open their own souvlaki shop. They agreed on the fundamentals: simple, old-school souvlaki (which also happens to be our favorite). Made without potatoes and often not even tzatziki, this type of souvlaki spotlights the quality of the pita bread and the meat (typically pork); slices of fresh tomato and onion mixed with chopped parsley round out this divine Greek “sandwich.”
After nailing down their concept and recipe, the duo went on the hunt for the right space. Somewhat surprisingly, given the wreckage it caused in the restaurant industry, Covid-19 ended up helping them out. Around the corner from Varvakios, Athens’ central food market, a small souvlaki joint opened right before the first lockdown in March 2020. Soon after the owner decided to throw in the towel, putting the space up for sale. Tasos and Aris grabbed the chance, as the location – in the center of Athens and close to the busy market – was ideal for their project. They opened in December 2020, right before Christmas.
They named the place Volvi, after the lake in northern Greece. Tasos originally comes from northern Greece, from a long line of butchers. “For at least six generations back my family has been in the butcher business. I know all about meat, and all about grilling it,” he explains.
Beyond Tasos’ family connections, they also chose the name “Volvi” because they source their high-quality charcoal from the area around the lake. “There’s a shop there owned by a man named Antonis Karpouzis. He owns the largest charcoal kiln in Greece, and he is a real specialist,” Tasos says. Antonis uses kermes oak from Mount Athos to prepare his all-natural and chemical-free charcoal.
The souvlaki shop is located on Evripidou Street, where it’s surrounded by butcher shops on one side and colorful storefronts stocked with spices and nuts on the other. There is no proper seating area – after giving your order to Aris (Tasos and an assistant work the grill), you can stand and eat at one of the three counters or two old-school butcher blocks placed out front.
They agreed on the fundamentals: simple, old-school souvlaki (which also happens to be our favorite).
A board hanging next to the front window spells out the minimalist menu: classic souvlaki (chunks of grilled pork wrapped in pita bread along with sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced onions mixed with parsley, and a hint of oregano and spicy paprika) and soutzoukakia, a type of traditional meatball made with cumin and garlic that is usually fried and mixed with a tomato sauce. Instead of frying their meatballs (made with their secret recipe), they grill them and skip the tomato sauce, wrapping them in pita bread along with the tomatoes, onion and parsley, and, if you’d like, a mustard sauce. You can also order either meat as a deconstructed portion, served on a plate with sliced pita bread, tomatoes, onions and parsley.
With such a limited offering, they can focus their attention on sourcing only the best ingredients and making sure they please their customers. Their meat supplier is right around the corner, and every morning Tasos goes himself to choose and cut the meat. The pita bread is delivered fresh each day, “arriving still warm,” Tasos says with pride.
It’s the type of food best enjoyed on the spot. In fact, their souvlaki is so delicious that we often stick around to order a second portion, washing both down with a glass of cold Greek beer.
Volvi’s hours roughly mirror those of the market: They are open daily between noon and 6 p.m., and closed on Sundays, just like the market. Even though the city has been in a strange kind of lockdown, with restaurants shut since last November and only takeout and delivery allowed, word of mouth about this new souvlaki place in the Varvakios market still spread around Athens. Every time we’ve walked by, there has been a queue of people waiting to eat while delivery bikes keep coming and going.
Tasos and Aris are both grateful to be doing so well despite launching in the middle of a pandemic. Now that restaurants have finally reopened and life is slowly going back to a kind of normality, they hope to see the market area once again bustling and full of people.