1 February 2023

Griffith's first souvlaki shop opens permanently after December drama

| Oliver Jacques
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man and girl outside eatery

Frank Romeo and cousin Elizabeth outside Souvlaki on Banna. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Griffith’s first specialist souvlaki outlet has opened permanently, after a couple of dramatic false starts in December involving a kidney stone attack and an unprecedented customer deluge.

Souvlaki on Banna, on the top block of the town’s main street, is a Greek eatery serving grilled meat sliced from a rotating spit in toasted pita bread, charcoal chicken, fish and chips, and salad. It’s taken over the site of the former Griffith Charcoal Chicken House, which had been closed for 12 months.

The new store’s owner, Frank Romeo, had to overcome Griffith’s notorious shortages of tradies, chips and hospitality staff to get his business underway. But he also came up against a few unexpected challenges, underestimating demand from the town’s souvlaki-starved population.

“I opened last year on 30 November,” Mr Romeo said. “But I got smashed, I went through a week’s worth of supply in a day and a half. It was overwhelming. We opened on the Wednesday night and by Thursday night we were out of everything, so we closed up.

“We then prepped up to open on Wednesday the following week. We had everything ready to go. But I was on my way to work [on the Tuesday] and I didn’t feel right. When I got here I had a kidney stone attack and had to call an ambulance and go to hospital. I lost all my stock for the month.”

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Mr Romeo remained determined to make things work. It was third time lucky, with the store booming since starting up again on 4 January, 2023. While it took a few months to make the store operational, he’s had the idea for decades.

“I grew up with a lot of Greek mates in Mildura. That’s where I got the idea for this – they have helped me set it all up … and gave me their recipes.

“As far as I know, it’s the first souvlaki place in Griffith. We thought we’d give people something a bit different to pizza and pasta.”

Like many in Griffith, Mr Romeo comes from an Italian farming family.

Man next to restaurant sign

Griffith’s main street, once dominated by Italian cuisine, is now full of new restaurants from different parts of the world. Harry Lal recently opened the town’s first Punjabi eatery, Swaad Punjab Da. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

“I used to make pizza bases for a living – I had my own business when I was 20. I’ve also worked in some pubs for a little bit but I’ve always been on and off a farm.”

Although his menu is Greek dominated, it also features a traditional Italian dish and something quintessentially Australian.

“I also have pipi and patati, which is capsicum, potato and onion cooked in olive oil. We’re starting with a basic menu and we’re trying to specialise in that for now.

“I want to take things back to the old school days. We do fish and chips and we do the batter fresh. Before we dip it in the fryer, we batter it there and then. We have a chip shortage at the moment. But luckily enough I have a supplier in Wagga, they peel all the potatoes for me, then cut them down to chip size. They get them to me either that day or the day after, so they’re really fresh.”

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He’s also overcome staff shortages in a traditional way.

“A lot of family have helped me get through. I have my cousin Elizabeth working here for me.”

Griffith’s main street has also seen three new Indian restaurants open in the past few months: Swaad Punjab Da, Apra Curry House and Spicy Curry Mehak, as the town’s cuisine broadens from its traditional Italian base.

Souvlaki on Banna is open every day except Monday and Tuesday. For its menu and further information, check out its Facebook page.

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