George’s Kebabs has been a Curtin institution since time immemorial. But who is the eponymous, mythical ‘George’? As part of Humans of Curtin, George reveals all, showing that there is more to his story (and his store’s story) than meets the eye …
Can you tell me about your background?
I was born and bred here. I’ve always lived in Perth. My family is predominantly Greek. My dad was a boilermaker welder by trade, but when he came [to Australia] he got his apprenticeship in cookery. Since then, my parents have been in food and hospitality. Dad and Mum bought this business 20 years ago, and that’s when my brother and I implanted ourselves in here and did what we could to boost the business.
So you didn’t open the kebab store?
The kebab store was already here. I’m the ‘second-generation George’, as I like to call it. The ‘first-generation George’ was an accountant, knew very little about hospitality and just knew about numbers. My dad started working for him in 1991 and was doing marinades and chef work for him. A few years later, in 1994 or 1995, he wanted to sell out, so we bought in and that’s how my family came into the kebab store.
I vaguely remember someone telling me that George, the previous owner, had bought the kebab store in 1985. I’m sure it was around before then, but that’s the only date we know about, so we just tell everyone it was established in 1985.
There are many rumours going around about why the kebab shop is called George’s Kebabs. My brother [James] and I are the shop’s two business partners, and because of that, people ask us why it’s called George’s Kebabs and not Jim’s Kebabs. I like to tell people that we played paper-rock-scissors and that I won.
What do you think it is about the store that has kept people interested?
We have a fantastic product. It’s all about the meat and the bread. The meat has to be of good quality, which is why we don’t do the gyros, the shaved meat, because a lot of people try to throw cinnamon on it to cover its cheap flavour. So we only use top-quality meat and trim the fat off.
Another part of it is because we’re near the tavern. The area around the tavern is very sociable and it has been a major entertainment and food hub over the years.
Plus, I think our friendly service has helped!
What are some challenges you face in running George’s Kebabs?
The biggest challenge we always face is the on period, off period. There are 12 weeks in a semester, so there are 24 weeks of full-time students being here. Those other times we’re only catering for staff and a few other students on campus. So our biggest challenge is to make sure the revenue is there to cover for that quiet period, because we’re running at a slight loss.
Now the biggest challenge we’re facing is that we’ve opened a food truck. We’re gluttons for punishment. It’s occupying a lot of our time. At the moment, the food truck is located at a place that’s a bit ‘hush-hush’ because Curtin people don’t agree with where it is: it’s at UWA. People are up in arms, saying “no, you belong to Curtin. Don’t go to UWA!” It’s a sister part to the main George’s Kebabs store. But we’ve just given UWA a snippet of what we do here at Curtin.
Is there anybody that has really inspired you?
Both my parents have motivated me. Dad has always been a workhorse and we’ve seen him slog through the years and he’s done very well. Mum, on the other hand, was more of a business-minded person. She knew how to run a business prudently and had a perfect mind for it, but didn’t have much of an education. A lot of people said that if she did have an education, she’d either be a lawyer or a top criminal gangster, because that was the level of how her mind worked. She knew the ins and outs of everything, and she could read people. My parents have been my biggest inspiration.
What are your hobbies?
I’m fanatic about soccer. Most people call it ‘football’ nowadays, but I grew up calling it ‘soccer’. I started playing soccer when I was four or five years old at one of the local Greek clubs here, mainly because my dad was also a soccer fanatic. Now, I love watching the English Premier League. I follow Liverpool.
What are some things that have changed about Curtin since you came here?
Curtin has gone through a lot of different phases. When we first started, the tavern was hustling and bustling and used to be like a normal pub, with the layout and people playing pool. From there, it’s become a lot quieter and nowadays it’s a lot more of a social place. People go to sit at the tavern to enjoy a meal and a beer. You do see character changes throughout the years and I think the nearby shops have tried to adjust their menus and facilities to accommodate that.
How many kebabs do George’s sell in a week?
If I had to estimate, it would be somewhere around 2,000 to 2,500 kebabs in a week.
What’s your favourite kebab?
My favourite and my brother’s favourite type of kebab has always been the pork kebab. It’s severely, severely underrated. You’ll find that a lot of people will have chicken if they go for a type of meat because that’s the safe choice. Then, if they want to venture out a little bit, they might have the lamb, but not many people actually go for pork. I don’t know why. People eat bacon, but for some reason when it comes to pork, they might say: “I don’t really eat pork.”
Make sure you try the kebabs yourself in Building 106C!