Get ‘Em While They’re Hot! Halal Gyros!
Chicago is home to all five of the major gyro (pronounced “Yiros”) manufacturers in the USA including IFANCA-certified Olympia Food Industries. That’s not really surprising considering Greek immigrants began arriving here in the 1840s and Chicago became home to the largest Greek population in the U.S. until World War II, when New York City took the lead. It continues, however, to be the third largest Greek city in the world.
“Despite coming from predominantly agrarian backgrounds, Greek immigrants moved quickly into mercantile activities,” notes the Encyclopedia of Chicago. “By the late 1920s, Greeks were among the foremost restaurant owners, ice cream manufacturers, florists, and fruit/vegetable merchants in Chicago.” In 1927 Greeks were operating “more than 10,000 stores, 500 of them in the Loop, with aggregate sales of $2 million per day. One-third of the wholesale business in Chicago markets in South Water and Randolph Streets was conducted with Greek American merchants.”
The origins of Olympia Food Industries, too, goes back to the restaurant industry. Company President, Andre Papantoniou, and his brother had first set up shop on Sheridan road in 1971. Their business later changed into a pita company and finally came to include gyros as well. With meat supplied by IFANCA-certified Better Beef, a Canadian Company, Gyros alone are responsible for half of Olympia’s approximately $30 million in revenue. Currently Gyros and Pita are manufactured in the company’s Chicago plant and are available widely in retail markets all over the United States. Olympia Food Industries plans to expand into a 55,000 square foot building, located in Chicago Heights on the northeast corner of State Street and Joe Orr Road. The new plant is outfitted with over $1.5 million of new equipment from Italy necessary for the manufacturing of Mediterranean pastries, pita breads, gyros and various other food items for distribution to restaurants and supermarkets.
According to a June 6, 2006 report by ABC7 Chicago, the U.S. Market for gyros is now approximately $250 million a year. Widening their market share was one reason that Olympia Food Industries decided to go Halal. “We were looking for ways of expanding our production and getting our name out to various groups that would recognize gyro. All middle-easterners know and recognize gyro so it was only natural that we would seek out a way to serve the Islamic community,” says Mr. Andre Papantoniou. “The Halal food industry is no fad. The Islamic community in the West is growing and has needs that the food industry must address and work towards serving,” he adds. “We chose IFANCA to get Halal certification because of its outstanding reputation.”
Traditionally Gyros were made from a mix of beef and lamb in ranging proportions. The meat is mixed with special spices and binders to create a unique taste. Once formed into cones, they are cooked on a vertical rotisserie then shaved in thin strips and served. Gyros are also available in precooked strips ideal for sandwiches or as a pizza topping.
Shawarma is layers of minced lamb and beef- 80% beef, actually-marinated in salt, black, or red pepper and other spices and roasted on a vertical rotisserie. The rotation allows the meat to cook evenly in its own juices. The word gyros, sometimes known as “<loner”, incidentally traces its name to the Turkish word <loner kebab (literally “turning roast”). The edges, when nicely done, are sliced off and stuffed into a grilled pita pocket with tomatoes and onions and tzatziki sauce, (a cucumber and yogurt sauce) and rolled into a sandwich. Alternatively, it’s served flat in a plate with a side of fries, onions and tomatoes, traditionally called a “Merida”. “Contrary to popular beliefs, the gyro is leaner than hamburger meat and other fast food meat products. The vertical broiling method of cooking facilitates the process where excess fat is cooked off, dripping into a catch pan leaving the gyro leaner,” explains Mr. Andre Papantoniou.
1½ cup of Greek yogurt (strained)
2 medium-sized cucumbers
4-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
a little vinegar
Skin the cucumbers and cut into thin strips with a vegetables grater; and then cut into small pieces. Drain and squeeze well and then salt. Add the crushed garlic, the vinegar, the yogurt and mix, finally adding the oil (a little oil at a time} and mixing. If you wish, you can garnish with olives. For a more garlicky taste, add more garlic.