Fast-casual Greek dining phenomenon Souvla is opening its doors — and a spiffy new takeout window — to the Marina tomorrow, January 8. The new location, at 2272 Chestnut, is the fourth in four years: The first opened in Hayes Valley in 2014.
The latest Souvla aims to meet the demands of Marina residents — a hungry bunch after workouts at Barry’s Bootcamp and Soulcycle — while also expanding the reach of Souvla’s brisk online delivery business. As the small chain’s northernmost outpost, the new location will serve neighborhoods like North Beach and Russian Hill through delivery service Caviar.
While Souvla’s new dining room is elegantly appointed with copper table tops, sleek stemware, and hanging plants from a high-ceilinged entrance, more than half of Souvla’s daily customers won’t be eating inside the restaurant. To-go orders and pick-up and delivery orders placed online represent about 60 percent of Souvla’s business, founder and CEO Charles Bililies estimates.
Bililies wrote the first Souvla business plan (and designed the original Hayes Valley restaurant layout) without factoring delivery into the equation. Not this time. The Marina Souvla is built to maximize to-go and delivery efficiency — see that takeout window — without jostling customers in the cozy, 400-square-foot dining room. That’s less than a third of the restaurant’s footprint: The rest is given over to kitchen, prep, and storage space, flipping a restaurant design maxim, that two-thirds of a business should be for dining, on its head. Out front, meanwhile, traffic has been white-zoned for quick drop-off and delivery to limit double parking.
Souvla’s menu, from chef/partner Tony Cervone, is the same across all locations. Protein staples (served as pita sandwiches or generously-sized salads) include Superior Farms lamb leg (with harissa-spiked yogurt, cucumber, radish, pickled red onion, and feta cheese) and a vegetarian option of roasted white sweet potato (with garlic yogurt, chopped kalamata olive, toasted walnut, and pickled red onion, pea shoots, and Mizithra cheese). For dessert, there’s Greek frozen yogurt with toppings like baklava crumbles and honey.
By now, customers know what to expect from a Souvla. For Bililies, that means there’s no time for the Marina location to warm up. “We don’t have a grace period,” he says, “we have to nail it right out of the gate.”
Bililies has heard Souvla’s business model — a counter-service setup with an emphasis on large volume — described many ways. Fast-casual, quick-service, or fine-casual — emphasizing his team’s roots in fine dining (he was in operations at Thomas Keller and Michael Mina’s restaurant groups, while Cervone was chef de cuisine at Greek fine dining favorite Kokkari Estiatorio).
But ultimately, it’s not the name that matters.
“Whatever you call it, this is the future of dining — this format,” Bililies says.