Souvla CEO reflects on past year / Federal funds to aid local transportation projects

It's Thursday, March 11th.

Good evening, San Francisco. 

When I worked at Square years ago, I remember meeting this guy named Charles who had this idea of starting a Greek restaurant in the city. Well, he did. And some six years later, Souvla has become a staple in San Francisco with its healthy-ish and highly addicting salads, sandwiches, and fro-yo. 

I spoke with Souvla CEO and founder Charles Bililies today, as we approach one year since San Francisco’s initial shelter-in-place mandate. And even for one of the city’s most popular local chains, it’s been a struggle. 

Bililies said he considered the health and safety of his staff “as paramount,” which kept Souvla’s doors closed longer than most quick-serve restaurants in the city. Eventually, though, he said he reached a crossroads. “It’s like either we need to reopen these restaurants or we’re not going to have any restaurants,” he said. 

Souvla started opening back up, but with a slimmed-down staff. Bililies had let go 150 of his 180 hourly employees, which he said was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do. “That was brutal,” he said. 

Demand spiked immediately upon Souvla’s return in July—150 orders in the first 15 minutes of opening up its online order system. One person on Twitter mistook the long lines for a Supreme clothing “drop.” Bililies had to issue a public apology to customers for the long wait times. 

“It turns out when you deprive the city of San Francisco of Souvla for 110 days there’s an awful lot of pent-up demand and excitement,” Bililies said. “We basically broke the restaurant, our tech stack, everything.” 

Operations have smoothed since and his staff is back up to 120 people, many of whom worked for Souvla before the pandemic. And with plans over the next couple of months to open outdoor dining, as well as limited indoor dining, Bililies said they’ll likely need to hire more people soon.

“Thankfully we’re starting to work on more forward-thinking plans and shifting out of damage control mode,” he said. “We’re excited to be restoring and reopening our restaurants and getting back to growth again.” 

You can listen to my full conversation with Charles here— in which we get into why Souvla’s menu has always stayed the same (he said it was originally intended to change every quarter!) and what his business might look like in 5-10 years (hint: more locations around the Bay Area). 

And with that, onto some news: 

As part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed into law by President Biden on Thursday, public transportation agencies in San Francisco and Oakland are set to receive $1.25 billion to help offset the loss of ridership and revenue during the past year. The federal package also includes tens of millions of dollars earmarked for projects like electrifying Caltrain and increasing the number of BART trains per hour through the Transbay Tube.

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told me that by the end of June 2022, the agency stands to lose $1 billion in revenue due to the pandemic. But, she said, “this new relief helps us plan our next budget without layoffs and drastic service cuts.”

“BART is grateful that Congress and the Biden Administration has prioritized transit,” Trost said. 

Separately, on Thursday, BART officials are set to discuss the ‘megaregion’ rail system known as Link21 that would (like its name suggests) link 21 Northern California counties by train. The ambitious project, which was announced publicly in January, is still in early discussion phases. Advocates for Link21 are aiming for a 2040 completion date. 

Quick bits:

  • 🍎 The SFUSD school board approved a plan Thursday that would start opening up public schools on April 12th. That plan still requires a vote by teachers, which should happen before Saturday. (Chronicle)

  • 😔 Police spotted the suspect of a Russian Hill burglary on Tuesday night jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Eventually, the suspect was found wedged between two buildings and died at the scene. (SFist

  • 🌇 Salesforce has canceled its plans to lease 325,000-square-foot at the yet-to-be-built Parcel F tower downtown. (SF Business Times

  • 😑 Swallowing too many pennies may have led to the death of the Palace of Fine Arts swan this week, park officials say. They are telling people to stop throwing coins in the pond. (SFist

  • 🍜 Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho just released her top 13 Vietnamese restaurants in the Bay Area and now, with this cool weather, all I want is phở. Mộng Thu in the Tenderloin and Bạc Liêu in Bernal Heights look 👌. (Chronicle

And finally… In celebration of Women’s History Month, Supervisor Myrna Melgar (during an undisclosed week in March) will ask volunteers to track how many minutes male board members talk versus female board members during meetings. (The idea is that there’s some serious mansplaining happening today.) 

“We need to think about whose voice gets heard,” Melgar told the Chronicle. “We can all be trained to be active listeners and it starts by just thinking about it, having that insight.”

The District 7 Supervisor will also monitor how many times one board member interrupts another. 

Melgar said not divulging the exact week of the study was especially important because she wanted her male colleagues “to be on their best behavior for the entire month of March!”

That’s all for today! Thanks for reading everyone and we’ll see you tomorrow. Almost Friday! 

-Nick B. 

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