Elpida Vasiliadis, known as the Souvlaki Lady, has operated a small Greek food trailer on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, New York for the last 30 years.
Elpida and her daughter Eleni, who now also works at the trailer, is one of many Greek families that live in this neighbourhood, which is a hub for the Greek diaspora of New York. Greeks came here in waves during the 20th century, and Astoria in particular is known for having deep roots from its Greek population.
And when it comes to Greek street food in Astoria, you can’t go past Elpida, who has been serving customers from her small food cart all this time and has become a much-loved person of the local community.
When Elpida started, her son and daughter were young and she lived around the corner, so she could watch them play in the front yard as her mother-in-law baby-sat. Elpida is now a grandmother herself and serving souvlaki to a third generation of customers.
Elpida learned to cook when she was a young girl herself, and her souvlaki recipe is the same one her mother used in their family restaurant.
Her parents, who were born in Greece, later migrated to Germany, which is where Elpida and her siblings were born.
When she was a teenager, they sent her to live with her grandmother and aunt in Thessaloniki, as they wanted her to go to Greek school. Three years later, the rest of the family followed.
Elpida helped out in the family restaurant, which is where she met her husband, George, and how she ended up in Astoria serving souvlaki. Her husband’s parents lived in Astoria and the couple moved back there to live.
“In the 1980s, nobody here knew what souvlaki was,” Elpida says “My first customers were Greek, but they thought of it only as a snack, not as a lunch.”
Since then, Elpida has worked as Souvlaki Lady, 12 hours a day, six days a week. She’s usually on her corner by 10:30 am and closes between 8 and 9 pm.
Apart from her famous souvlaki, she also serves traditional Zouzoukakia, tirokafteri, Zucchini chips, salads and a special Souvlaki lady sauce, which is Elpida’s secret recipe.
*Images by Kevin Karakalpakidis (Copyright) kkaraphoto.com/bio/