Interview with Meat and Greek
We are Sophie and Lisandros, couple and co-founders of Meat And Greek.
How long has the business been running?
It has been just over 6 years since our first pop-up: Womanby Street in 2014!
What was your first experience of cooking?
Both of us are extremely family-oriented, and cooking and eating with family has always been a huge part of both our lives. Lisandros has fond childhood memories of helping out at his uncle’s Taverna in Cyprus in the summer holidays. His uncle is an amazing chef and Lisandros was fascinated, watching him work and learning from him what he could.
Who or what inspired you to cook for a living?
We started Meat And Greek after serving Lisandro’s family’s traditional souvlaki recipe to my Welsh family on holiday 6 years ago. It went down an absolute storm and we decided to see if other people would love it too.
Within 6 months, with the support of our friends and family we had quit our day jobs and were cooking and serving souvlaki full time! What started as simply giving something a go has turned into our full time livelihood and passion. We are very proud to have built a great reputation and recognisable brand in Wales. Whilst we’ve had an amazing experience setting up our kitchen in a different location every week up and down the country the last few years, we couldn’t be happier to be finally making our first permanent home in Barry at the Goodsheds.
What was your first job within the industry?
My first ever job in food and hospitality was Meat And Greek – to say it was a baptism of fire doesn’t quite cover it! Luckily Lisandros and his family were already quite experienced in the industry and that certainly was vital in supporting us when we first got started. Lisandros grew up behind the counter of his Dad’s fish and chip shop in Canton – Stavros Fishbar for anyone who may remember it! Lisandros’ dad Stavros (despite being supposedly retired) works with us at Meat And Greek to this day, we couldn’t keep him away even if we wanted to! He is amazing and has been such a fantastic mentor to us since starting the business.
Is your cooking influenced by any particular region or style?
Cyprus – Lisandro’s family is Greek Cypriot. I’m sure many of the Greek food lovers out there may have noticed that our Souvlaki pitta is presented slightly differently to other Greek pittas they may have tried. This is a regional difference specific to the Island of Cyprus – for example, we serve a large open pitta pocket opposed to a wrap- and we don’t put fries in there either. All of the elements of our pitta, the bread, the halloumi and the skewered meat are meticulously cooked over charcoal fire. Fundamentally the dish is the same – the Greek word “Souvlaki” actually translates in English to “little skewer”.
If you look at Cyprus on the map it neighbours the Middle East, and no doubt shares elements of both Greek and Middle Eastern cooking. We’ve often wondered if serving a wrap with fries would be more commercially appealing, for example if our customers have been to Greece on holiday and not Cyprus they may be expecting the latter. But we decided to stay true to our roots and serve the authentic cuisine that we know and love – and actually now what our customers have come to know and love too!
If customers had to describe their dining experience with you in only three words, what would they be?
Wholesome, fresh & authentic!
When you come home from work, what do you like to cook?
As I’m sure many people in our industry may tell you, during busy periods it’s lucky if you find the time to get a home cooked meal. But when we do have the time, food does always tend to centre around family, whether that’s a big old roast dinner or more often than not a Greek style BBQ at Lisandro’s parents’ house – honestly it’s the food that we serve at Meat And Greek – grilled halloumi, souvlaki, pitta, beautiful salad – maybe with a few special additions like octopus or marinated okra!
Do you have any guilty pleasures? (it’s ok, you only need to tell us about food-related ones!)
It has to be a McDonald’s breakfast or an Indian takeaway! Being on the run so much, those golden arches have sorted us out on many occasions. Our Indian takeaways have had a SERIOUS upgrade since we have become neighbours with Tukka Tuk in the Goodsheds- the best bhajis ever!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Many of the highlights of our journey have been experienced in private- perhaps these are things we have not shouted enough about, or maybe assumed people might not be interested in. These have been milestones in the growth of the business, behind the scenes- from side street pop-up and preparing our food in our parents’ kitchen to making enough progress to rent and fit out our own commercial kitchen. From renting a zillion vans in the first two years, to finally stretching to afford our own. From really feeling like complete novices and having our friends and family jump in to help us out, to feeling professional and confident enough to hire and build an amazing team who love and represent Meat and Greek as much as we do. This year we opened our first permanent restaurant in Barry- quite an upgrade from a gazebo and a bucket to wash up in! We actually have four walls, a roof and a dishwasher- and the dishwasher has really been life changing! When you run any business, every day is a school day, and we are always looking to improve what we do- we want to keep those highlights coming.
What is the greatest compliment you have ever had about your food?
That’s a tough question, there have been so many lovely comments over the years, one or two customers have even had us cater their weddings! At all the events we’ve been to, we have become pretty renowned for having queues of epic proportions, whether that’s people wanting to try us or just coming back for more. Every single time this happens we look at each other in both disbelief and gratitude, from year 1 – 6 we have never got used to it. The sheer volume of people wanting to eat our food is really the greatest compliment we could ever hope for.
What do you enjoy most about being the chef life?
To this day we really do not consider ourselves ‘chefs’, as we have never had any formal training. We really are just home cooks bringing our cooking to the masses! The best part of cooking for our customers is seeing them enjoy it in real time- watching their reaction. Seeing familiar faces coming back for more is always such a fantastic feeling and gives you the confidence that you must be doing something right!
What advice would you give to any young person keen to start in the industry?
If you’re thinking of starting a food business, a pop-up, supper club or market stall are a great way of testing the water without that huge initial financial commitment. They not only allow you to see if there is a demand for your food but will teach you the practicalities and possible pitfalls of running a food business too. Whether that’s food hygiene, pricing, or how to upscale from feeding a small group of friends to serving hundreds of people at an event. It’s also a great time to make mistakes! Because trust us when we say you will make quite a few!
We believe a huge part of the success of Meat And Greek has been our exposure to huge audiences at street food events and festivals, we were able to get our food out there and build our reputation with customers that perhaps we would never have had the chance to meet. It has definitely built the foundations of Meat And Greek and has given us the confidence to pursue the next step of setting up our first permanent home at Goodsheds.
A concept and passion are a good starting point, but the only way to truly know if you want to go down this path is to get yourself out there and start doing it.