Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Gyro’s History Unfolds

CARVED Gyros with tzatziki at the Kronos Foods factory in Chicago.

Mr. Tomaras opened Kronos in 1975 and sold it to a private equity firm in 1994. But he returned to the plant, on a dead-end industrial road in Chicago’s southwest side, to explain how gyros are made. It’s a show and tell that is not for the squeamish.

It is a mystery meat.

PRE-PITA Chris Tomaras, the founder of Kronos Foods, with uncooked gyro cones.

The question is: Who is the Henry Ford of the gyro? It turns out there are a handful of contenders, all of whom know one another and have been friendly competitors for decades. They include George Apostolou, who says he served the first gyros in the United States, in the Parkview Restaurant in Chicago, in 1965, and nine years later opened a 3,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, Central Gyros Wholesale.

another contender, Andre Papantoniou, a founder and the president of Olympia Food Industries, says the gyro plant was actually the brainchild of the improbably named John Garlic.

This initially sounds like a joke, but Mr. Papantoniou swears that during the rotisserie-making phase of Mr. Parthenis’s career, one John Garlic showed up in Chicago in search of a partner in a gyro plant he’d started in Milwaukee.

It’s true, Mr. Parthenis said in a second call, though he remembers little about his former partner, except that the guy looked like a hippie. Who Mr. Garlic was and why he made gyros are questions that Mr. Parthenis can’t answer: “He was like a phantom. He came out of nowhere.”

There is little about John Garlic in news archives, aside from a 1978 story in The Milwaukee Sentinel, in which a John J. Garlic discusses his plans to keep trained dolphins in a former municipal pool he’d bought in the city and wanted to turn into a restaurant with a kind of Sea World sideshow.

Unfortunately, Mr. Garlic is no longer around to discuss matters; he died of kidney failure in 1994. But his wife, Margaret Garlic, can provide answers.

So, who was John Garlic?

“He was this big guy,” she said, “like 6 foot 2 inches tall, dark curly hair, couple hundred pounds. A former Marine. A super intelligent, super entertaining man. My brother used to say, ‘When John Garlic enters a room, you know you’re going to have fun.’ ”

And he was Greek?

“No, no,” she said. “He was Jewish.”

YOu can't make this stuff up.

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