“We lived with my Grandmother for 15 years” Sophie remembers. “So all our food around the table was Greek. That’s how our families get together.”
If you are wandering through the Wellington markets on a Sunday morning or in Courtney Place on a weekday, you might well have stumbled upon the wafting smell of lamb and halloumi coming from a sweet, crisp, white and blue food truck parked up nearby.
Loud Greek music will be blaring as a slim woman quickly moves about taking orders, looking like a mediterranean version of Charlotte Gainsbourg. Behind her a tall dark haired chef with strong arms mans the grill. “Souvlaki” she cries, looking around at the huddle of people eagerly awaiting, staring at her in hope and then all but one, disappointed at having to continue to wait for their much desired food. This is Sophie and George, co-owners. This is their Greek Food Truck. This is the best street food in town.
Sophie (one half of the owners of the Greek Food Truck) was born in Kilbirne, Wellington, a first generation kiwi girl, to Greek parents. “I had young parents” she says, as we sit together over a hot coffee at Joe's Garage cafe on Taranaki Street one autumn evening. Sophie's father was a mechanic and a bus driver. Her mother was a banker. “They were just ordinary middle class kind of people” Sophie remembers. At home, everything was all about good food and family . “We lived with my Grandmother for 15 years” Sophie remembers. “So all our food around the table was Greek. That’s how our families get together.” Growing up, Sophie remembers being forced to eat lentil soup “Because it’s full of iron” Sophie explains. “But as a 5 year old it’s not very exciting. We also used to eat green beans with salsa.” The memories of food and family have influenced how Sophie feels about being in the food business to this day.“It’s funny because our all these years later, now that we have the food truck and we sell to the public, it just doesn’t quite feel natural to take money for our food” Sophie says.
Apart from being passionate about Greek food, Sophie has creative flair which she attributes to her mother (more on how this influenced the look of the truck, is explained below). Alongside opening the truck 18 months ago Sophie has worked since she was 21 at New Zealand fashion house, Zambesi (founded in 1979). “I get my love of style from her,” Sophie explains. "She always had her outfits, lipstick and shoes all pulled together. My love of everything creative and fashion related came from her. I remember going back to Cyprus in Greece as a child and my mother buying seven pairs of shoes in one trip!” Sophie says.
Sophie admits she’s loved Wellington since she was a child. Growing up, it was all about the clothes - and tunes. “For me, everything was always about fashion. Loving all the new romantic clothes at the time of Duran Duran and Madonna - that’s my era.” Sophie left school, traveled for a bit. After returning again back to Wellington Sophie was told by a friend who was a tailor to go and visit the Zambesi store while she was helping him out with work. She got to know the Zambesi staff and when a job came up, she applied. “Back then, Zambesi was located where Levi’s is today, on the corner of Willeston Street. It used to stock [legendary New Zealand labels] Marilyn Santy and Workshop,” Sophie explains. “When I applied, I met Neville Findlay the boss. He flew down from Auckland and we clicked as people. He hired me and nurtured me and taught me everything I know about fashion. Zambesi has influenced me hugely.”
Sophie loved working for Zambesi and she watching the brand evolve. She was fortunate enough to go to New Zealand Fashion Week and Sydney Fashion Week “ and then working during The Lord of the Rings when lots of celebrities came in!” More than anything, however, Sophie loves dressing people who come into the Wellington Zambesi store, trusting her with her understanding of style. “When they buy an outfit that they would never have thought to buy, that’s where I get my satisfaction. They’ve trusted me and I love that,” Sophie says.
Sophie went and lived in Sydney to run the Zambesi store in Paddington. From there, she moved to Greece. After concluding her time overseas, she returned to Wellington again, where she met George, 'her man' and partner in the truck who she had, in fact, known since childhood. “Our parents were surprised but also not surprised” she says.
George, a chef, had a Greek restaurant which he closed soon after they met. But Sophie admits she had to talk him into starting the Greek Food Truck. “It evolved from George hunting for a space to open a new Greek Restaurant. He just couldn’t find one! Similarly, I had come back from Greece and I realised that there was no Greek food in Wellington. There was no Souvlaki. I knew how popular it was on the Islands - and it’s so simple! Bread, tzatziki - it’s honest food and healthy and fast.”
Sophie came up with the idea to open a food truck. However, it took a date to a movie for her to give George the final push and convince him to buy into her vision. “I took George to see the film ‘Chef’ which is about a chef who opens his own food truck. “I said to him ‘George, let’s go and see this movie!” she laughs. Luckily, George fell in love with the movie - and the idea of opening up their own food truck together.
From there, everything evolved organically, from the logo to the truck itself. No one could deny that one of the strengths of the food truck is it’s iconic imagery, evoking the colours of the Greek flag. “That was where I felt the most confident” Sophie admits “designing the logo. My best friend, Angelo, is an artist (and is the cleverest man in the world!). I sat down with him and we nutted out the logo in 10 minutes. I wanted something simple so it could be a brand. I had seen other Greek Food Truck’s and they often had the whole acropolis on them. At that point, the Greek Food Truck didn’t exist. It was just an old truck we'd bought.”
"The mantra of the Greek Food Truck is clearly ‘Give the people what they want.’ The menu is simple, fresh and delicious."
Which leads to the key question? Where on earth do you find a food truck? “We just found it on Trademe” Sophie says “We just went and had a look at it, bought it. It was horrible. We fitted it out - it had a kitchen - and added things to it. For example, George added a sink from his restaurant. We had to peel back three layers of paint. It was a lot of work but one hundred per cent worth it.”
“It’s like you are going into my kitchen!”
Once the Truck and logo were complete it was time to turn to the most important thing. The food. The mantra of the Greek Food Truck is clearly ‘Give the people what they want.’ The menu is simple, fresh and delicious. The souvlaki (filled with chips, proper Greek style) has just five ingredients. They also like to keep things flexible. “We use black board. We just didn’t know what people would like at the beginning and we wanted to respond to it. For example, we thought pork would do really well. It doesn’t. Pork is really popular in Greece. But Lamb does well. So does Halloumi.” George interacts with customers in a way he wouldn’t as a traditional chef. “It’s like you are going into my kitchen!”
Wellingtonian’s clearly love their Greek food - and they are hungry for more. “People come to us and say that they haven’t eaten a souvlaki since they were in Greece. It has a feel good vibe,” George and Sophie say “we’re just passionate about it.” Sophie and George’s favourite place to sell is the Wellington Sunday markets, alongside other food vendors. “The people, the water; it’s like a big family. Wellington at it’s finest” Sophie sighs.
With catering gigs, markets and a weekday spot on Taranaki Street, George and Sophie work seven days a week out of the food truck. They find it hard to turn down sites “When we get offered them, it’s hard to say no! It’s lots of work but it’s out child - our baby. We have the family involved - our little team helps out which is why we can do the pop up at Moore Wilson’s (open now for the next two weeks). The family makes the team complete.” The hard work isn't with a little divine help however. “We had the priest bless out truck” Sophie and George say. But at the end of the day, all they need is Welly. “We’ve fallen in love with our city” say Sophie and George. All I have to say to that is - Opa!
You can find The Greek Food truck at the pop-up in the Moore Wilson's foyer for the next two weeks, or around town in the Truck (Taranaki Street and Manners corner on weekdays, Chaffers Market on Sundays). Follow their Facebook page for updates on where the truck is next.
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