Souvlaki is still king despite crisis

Souvlaki, the undisputed king of Greece?s street food, has yet to feel the bite of the debt-wracked nation?s financial crisis.

Despite a steady drop in the country?s fast-food business since 2009, when the debt crisis started to unfold, the number of souvlaki joints, known among locals as ?souvlatzidika,? has actually grown, Kathimerini understands.

Greeks reportedly consume an estimated 3 billion souvlakia, comprising small pieces of meat grilled on a skewer, every year. Greeks reportedly spend a total 2.5 billion euros on souvlakia per year.

Between 1992 and 2008, the local fast-food industry grew at an average of 15.2 percent each year as souvlaki, pizza and snack/sandwich shops proliferated and armies of food delivery bikes roamed city streets.

Recent figures released by ICAP show the economic crisis has caused an annual 4 percent drop in the sector. However, independent local outlets appear to be the most resistant to the downturn. Experts say success is mostly thanks to the small number of staff — in most cases the owner plus a few family members — which has allowed these businesses to maintain large profit margins. New souvlaki joints keep springing up, even in the relatively more expensive areas such as the capital?s central Kolonaki district.

Intense competition however does not seem to have come with better quality. The majority of outlets rely on a small number of suppliers and this inevitably leaves a uniform taste in the mouth, one businessman explains.

?In the past, souvlatzidika owners used to buy meat and prepare the gyros themselves. Now most of them buy the meat after it?s already been put on the stick or the spit,? the man, who asked that his name not be used, said. ?About two dozen meat processing companies basically serve all of Attica. The taste will inevitably be uniform,? he said, adding that most of the pita bread and fries are readymade.

Economies of scale have had a similar impact on the local pastry business, as most cheese and spinach pies are prepared by a few wholesale bakeries. ?Soon salads will also be subjected to the trend,? the businessman said.