Tucked in a cozy space in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley is a bustling Greek restaurant that puts a refreshing spin on traditional Greek cuisine while serving nearly a thousand orders per day.
As a proud Greek-American, owner and chef Charles Bililies started Souvla in 2014 as a result of his past experience in fine dining. The restaurant style is defined as fine casual—customers can order efficiently at the counter, yet it still acts as a full-service destination. Bililies, in partnership with Metropolis Design, created the space while Chris Sullivan was the architect.
The biggest focus in the space is the rotisserie, in which Bililies stresses the importance during a few instances in our interview. Openly cooking lamb and chicken emphasizes locally-sourced ingredients and a back-to-basics motto. The menu is straightforward as well, offering the customer four options—three protein options and one vegetarian option, done as a sandwich or salad with the ability to customize. Simple as that.
When I ask him what he turns to for design inspiration, Bililies jokingly responds, "Is this where I say Dwell?" He then elaborates about his two sources of design inspiration: He has in fact been a fan of Dwell for years, and also follows Remodelista. He looked to both mediums for inspiration while designing the restaurant. He’s also held a long love of midcentury modern design, vintage cars, and watches—all of which he’s translated into the restaurant.
In addition, he spent time gathering inspiration in Greece prior to the restaurant’s opening. At the forefront of the design elements are key words such as "Greek-inspired, modern, clean, and minimalist." Mixed materials such as wood, marble, tile, and copper give the space a sense of warmth and character. Greenery including dried bay leaf is hung on the walls, while fresh olive and boxwood branches are tucked into vintage vases. They both add a quintessential Greek island ambiance.
Before Souvla was created, the space served as a Japanese restaurant that had black-painted ceilings. The natural light was limited and the owners didn’t utilize the space during the afternoon. Bililies and his team transformed it into a light-filled environment, adding a skylight and a number of large front windows. The simplicity of the menu coheres with the minimalism of the space that now feels larger than it actually is.
By utilizing minimal materials and sticking to a neutral color palette, Souvla achieves a clean, crisp visage. Bililies chose to adorn the space with authentic Greek copper pots, dried bay leaf, and meaningful items such as an engraved copper ice bucket and Komboloi—also known as Greek Worry Beads.
As with most San Francisco locales, space proved to be a concern, especially as Souvla quickly gained popularity. Many of their challenges have became victories over time, as Bililies mentions that he's hyper-focused on seeing how guests interact with the space. The bar against the far wall wasn’t an original feature but instead, it was intended to be a standing area. He decided to build it when he saw how guests were needing more seating as the establishment continued to gain more recognition. He increased the amount of French T-Back stools from Restoration Hardware to expand the dining area.
Bililies mentions that one of his main goals was to create a certain quality to his restaurants—to have guests walk in and know they’re in a "Souvla." Just this last month, they added a second location to another bustling part of town: San Francisco’s NoPa District. Find out more about both spots by visiting their site here.