The year was 1997. I had just stopped by Mr. Gyros for the Gyro Plate with Beef and Lamb. When I got home with my bag of takeout, I realized that they had forgotten the pitas. I called the restaurant to ask them to get my pitas ready, so I could run back up and grab them. The owner said, in his thick accent, “Oh sure, I remember you. You’re a regular customer. Do you live far from here?” “Just a couple of blocks,” I said, “I can come back.” “No, no. It was my mistake. I will bring them to you. What is your address?” I told him. “I’ll be right there,” he said.
I lived, at the time, on 79th and Aurora, an area my Seattle readers will recognize. For those unfamiliar with North Aurora Avenue, it’s on the edge of a great neighborhood, but it’s a funky location.
So, I came out the front door of my building and stood waiting on the sidewalk for approximately 30 seconds, during which time at least two drivers slowed down to yell invitations to me. Then the middle-aged owner of Mr. Gyros pulled up in his gigantic, battered car, wearing his usual wife-beater and 5’oclock shadow. As he leaned over to hand the foil wrapped package to me through the passenger side window, I glanced up at the “Drug and Prostitution Watch Area” signs above, then over to the police camera mounted prominently on a light pole in front of my building. I took the pitas and thanked him profusely. He shot back into the flow of traffic on Aurora, and I went back inside, thinking, “This is not going to look good on the video, but wow! That was some great customer service!”
I moved to Seattle in 1996 and lived in the Greenwood neighborhood for my first five years here. I ate at all the neighborhood restaurants, but scarcely a week went by that I didn’t order takeout from Mr. Gyros, where for less than $6.00, the Gyro Plate was the best gyro in town. Eventually I moved out of the neighborhood and didn’t eat there for a while. When I did return several years ago, a younger owner had taken over. The Gyro Plate, an enormous meal of beef and lamb, rice, hummus, peppers, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce with two pitas, was still less than $7.00.
Last Friday night, Michael and I hurried from the car, breath steaming in the cold dark, into the warmth of the tiny, cozy restaurant. As we walked in, we were greeted with a friendly smile. The guy behind the counter usually recognizes us and says, “Two gyros plates to go with extra flatbread, right?” No matter how long the line, we never seem to wait more than a few minutes before our order is ready. We watched the two cooks rock and roll in their tiny kitchen, weaving around each other to shave pita meat and heat flatbread, greeting customers, and clearly enjoying the hustle. Then we rushed to the car with our fragrant, steaming bag of food and back to Michael’s place for our feast.
Thirteen years later, it’s still the best gyro in town, and Mr. Gyros is still the quintessential neighborhood restaurant.