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The Gyro Made Its First US Appearance At A Chicago Restaurant In 1965 (Video)

Image Courtesy: Athena Gyro, Lagrangeville, NY

September 1st is National Gyro Day.  A gyro is a Greek dish made of meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, normally beef, veal, mutton, pork or chicken, or other alternatives such as feta or haloumi cheese, and usually served in a pita or sandwich, with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce.

  • Though grilling meat stacked on a skewer has ancient roots in the Eastern Mediterranean with evidence from the Mycenaean Greek and Minoan periods, grilling a vertical spit of stacked meat slices and cutting it off as it cooks was developed in the 19th century in Ottoman Bursa. It was originally called doner kebab.
  • In Greek gyros means literally to turn.
  • The word “gyro” comes from the Greek word for “turn.” The same prefix is used in gyroscope — which is also an object spinning on a vertical axis.
  • In spite of its popularity, the Gyro is one of the most mispronounced of any food item, being pronounced “jee-ros”, “jai-ros” or “gee-ros” when the correct Greek pronunciation is ‘Yeh-ro”. There is no true letter G, in the English sense, in the Greek language and the Greek letter gamma is pronounced “yeh”.
  • The Gyro was first introduced to the American public by George Apostolou in 1965 at the Parkview Restaurant, Chicago, IL.
  • A World Record: The gyro earned worldwide fame when Saimi Eid, a Greek restaurant owner, cooked up the world’s largest gyro. At 8,866 pounds, he cooked his massive sandwich with 72 grills and two tons of natural gas.
  • By 1970, gyros wrapped sandwiches were already a popular dish in Athens, as well as in Chicago and New York City. At that time, although vertical rotisseries were starting to be mass-produced in the US by Gyros Inc. of Chicago, the stacks of meat were still hand-made.
  • Michael Austin, CEO of Kronos Foods (the world’s largest gyro manufacturer), says that more than 300,000 gyros made by Kronos are eaten every day in the United States – which equals more than 100 million a year.
  • The word tzatziki appeared in English around the mid-20th century as a loanword from Modern Greek (τζατζίκι), which in turn comes from the Turkish word cacık, of obscure or unknown origin.
  • The gyro as we know it more or less today first arrived in Greece in 1922, with the hundreds of thousands of Greek and Armenian refugees from Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Most came from Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Ismir).
  • After WWII, gyro started to travel west following the immigration patterns of the Greeks themselves, so shops began popping up across Europe, in the States, and Australia. It became one of the first global fast foods, although no such label could really describe it at the time because most shops were mom-and-pop run.
  • By some accounts, gyro is the scion of a long and old family of skewered meat feasts, one with roots that stretch back to the time of Alexander the Great and his returning armies, whose soldiers were known to skewer and roast various cuts of meat on long, swordlike blades over an open fire.



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Diane Kochilas

Athena Gyro