Josh Hill has come to expect a quizzical look or blank stare when he tells people that the Salt Lake City restaurant he co-owns specializes in doner kebabs.
“About 70 percent of the people have never heard of a doner kebab,” said Hill, who opened Spitz in October 2013 with partners Tanner Slizeski and Bryce Rademan.
It was during study-abroad trips to Spain and the Netherlands that the three Utah natives and friends became fans of the wrap/sandwich that originated in Turkey and is a close relative to Greek gyros and Mediterranean shawarma.
“I always like to tell people that it’s street food with twist,” Hill said.
The seasoned meat — beef, lamb, veal, chicken or a combination — is molded into a cylinder and roasted on a vertical spit. It is thinly sliced and wrapped in a flatbread or served as a sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and a Mediterranean-inspired spread.
Hill said the term doner kebab translates to “rotating meat” and should not be confused with “shish kebab,” which means “skewered meat.”
While doner kebabs can be found all over Europe, they are especially popular in Germany, where they have outpaced bratwurst and sausage as the country’s favorite fast food, according to the Association of Turkish Döner Producers in Europe.
Germany got its first taste of doner kebabs in the 1970s, when Turkish immigrants came to Berlin as part of a guest-worker treaty. The portable food quickly became popular for its grilled flavor, large portion size and relatively low cost.
Park City native Bryce Rademan developed the Spitz concept while attending Occidental College near Los Angeles. His first store opened about eight years ago in a tiny spot across the street from the California campus. A favorite with students and late-night revelers, Rademan has since opened three more Spitz restaurants in the L.A. area.
With the help of Hill and Slizeski, Rademan brought the concept to his home state about six months ago, opening Spitz at 35 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City.
“Bryce and I have talked about bringing the concept to Salt Lake City for at least six years,” said Hill.
Purists may not appreciate the Spitz menu as it offers “an Americanized version” of the doner kebab, said Hill. “Hard-core fans of the German version harass us for not having cabbage, which is standard in Europe.”
At the fast-casual Spitz, the meat-filled doners cost about $8.50 each; vegetarian options are around $7.50. Sides and drinks are extra.
Perhaps because doner kebabs are relatively unknown in Salt Lake City, the early reviews have been mixed. One supporter on Twitter said, “Ate outside on the @SpitzSLC patio tonight. Great food, great atmosphere.”
Another tweeted a similar sentiment: “I lived in Spain for years and have never found a good Doner Kebab in the U.S. … until today. You just became my new fav restaurant.”
Others were less impressed: “Went there twice. Overpriced and not that good.”
Spitz makes its own seasoned rotisserie meats, including chicken, a 60/40 blend of beef and lamb and a mixed meat option of all three proteins. A vegetarian falafel also is available. The company makes its own spreads and sauces, including hummus, garlic aioli and yogurt tzatziki.
Customers can choose to have the thinly sliced meat in a thin lavash wrap or served sandwich-style on focaccia. Either offering includes romaine lettuce, onion, cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, tzatziki and chile sauce. There also are salads and sides, such as thin-cut fries and fried garbanzo beans and olives, on the menu.
Spitz also has a full-service restaurant liquor license, which means customers can order beer, wine and spirits with their doner kebab, which by now should no longer be such a mystery.
Make it a doner party at Spitz
Three Utah natives bring this Turkish wrap/sandwich to Salt Lake City.
Where • 35 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-364-0286
Open • Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Prices • Doner kebabs and salads, $7.50 to $8.95; sides $2.95 to $4.95.
Online • spitzslc.com