Christmas Shopping at Greek-Owned Stores

Plaza Meat Market in Astoria. Photo: TNH/Kostas Bej

NEW YORK – The Christmas celebrations are centered around the huge feast which brings shoppers to the many Greek-owned stores for the traditional ingredients needed to prepare the feast. The National Herald visited New York’s Greek neighborhood businesses where the owners urged everyone in the community to shop for high-quality Greek products at reasonable prices.

TNH found that the “traffic” at the Greek stores was about the same as last year, peaking as usual during the final weekend before Christmas.

Business-owners noted that the prices for their products are particularly reasonable adding that next year there might be increased duties on imported products, and this year is probably the last one they’ll be able to import duty-free products.

In Astoria, Titan helps its customers prepare a festive table. Kostas Mastoras and his colleagues observe the momentum of buying and selling at their store noting the advantageous prices for a number of Greek products, which are always top quality.

“The traffic is the same as last year. People are celebrating, the Greek Christmas table should be rich. Like every year, customers prefer traditional foods, cheeses and olives, and we have our bakery for the traditional sweets,” said Mastoras, who nevertheless pointed out that next year prices may be higher.

“Feta, for example, for many years we imported it at zero duty. Beginning in February, it will have a 10% import duty first, which is serious and will be applied to other products soon. Therefore, I believe that the expatriate should benefit from the favorable prices this year, to shop freely at reasonable prices, because unfortunately things will change,” he noted.

“People prefer gift baskets with traditional Christmas sweets,” said Margarita Dimou, an employee at Artopolis. Photo: TNH/Matina Demelis

At the same time, Mastoras thanked The National Herald and the Greek community for their support, noting that Titan Foods remains faithful to “promoting the best Greek food in America.”

Mediterranean Foods has been an “ambassador” of Greek products in New York for many years, with the owner, Vasilis Tentolouris, estimating that the traffic this Christmas season was an improvement compared to the previous year.

“The traffic is very good, we have a lot of customers coming from outside Astoria and all the other places in the tri-state area are in better shape financially than last year. Prices remain the same. We have plenty of products in stock. Everything a customer needs, we have,” said Tentolouris.

When asked about whether the Greeks are shopping more for their holiday table, he noted that in fact the Greeks and the non-Greeks look at their Christmas meal with a different “eye.” “American customers buy what’s necessary, while our Greek customers buy… everything. This year we have more products from Greece, and we also have our bakery,” said Tentolouris. He then expressed his thanks, “I want to thank the Greek community for helping Mediterranean Foods, because without the Greek community we would be nowhere.”

Meat is a key element of the festive table and at the Plaza Meat Market in Astoria employees are able to meet orders of any kind. Vasilis Papavgeris, who has been in the profession for many years, estimates that demand was similar to last year, while he commented that, unlike the purely American customer, the Greek customer does not have a special taste for the Christmas turkey.

“We serve mainly Greek expatriates. The Greek-Americans will tell you that they do not prefer turkey because it is considered a Thanksgiving meal. They prefer all other meats besides turkey. Prices are the same as last year and there is no difference,” he told TNH and shared his best wishes to all the Greek community.

United Brothers Fruit Market in Astoria. Photo: TNH/Kostas Bej

At the United Brothers Fruit Market, a staple for fruits and vegetables that will accompany the rich Christmas dinner, Spyros Marathias told TNH that he expected a larger turnout during the weekend before Christmas.

Traditional desserts, pastries, cakes, specialty pies, as well as vasilopites, kourabiedes, and melomakarona are available throughout the festive holiday season at Bay Ridge Bakery in Brooklyn’s Greek neighborhood.

“On celebrations we sell more christopsoma and vasilopita, but also cake. In these days we have a lot of customers, everyone getting ready for Christmas, they give gifts and of course prefer traditional Greek sweets. We have a lot of Greeks in the neighborhood, but even those who moved further away come here to shop,” said owner John Nikolopoulos, who opened his patisserie in the area 46 years ago.

Before coming to America, he had worked in well-known bakeries in Athens, Zonars, Floka, and Papaspyrou. “I learned the art and when I came to America I worked in French, Italian, and German bakeries. I worked hard and from one lemon I squeezed a juice with… a little bit of everyone I worked with and made my own line.

“One person never knows everything and should always try to keep learning. So, in my shop, I have French, Italian, and other types of sweets along with Greek so that anyone can find what he or she wants.”

Artopolis in Astoria is another staple for traditional sweets. The display case is adorned with traditional melomakarona, kourabiedes, diples, vasilopita.

Mediterranean Foods owner Vasilis Tentolouris spoke to The National Herald. Photo: TNH/Kostas Bej

Regina Katopodis, one of the owners, spoke with TNH, noting her pride in the fact that everyone, not just Greeks, enjoy the sweets at Artopolis. “I am very proud that they love our sweets. We strive to serve the best quality and my goal is to bring traditional Greece to America. Artopolis is for me the embassy of the Greek housewife.”

Vasilopites are made with a secret recipe from 1800 from Constantinople. “The Greek will always have the vasilopita on the table. Even the coins we put in are from Greece, in order to feel we have a piece of Greece on the table,” Mrs. Katopodis said.

She adds that this year there is a great demand from gift baskets. Baklava, wine, melomakarona, diples. “Non-Greeks are asking for Greek sweets. One company ordered 92 baskets from us. I’m glad our customers love Greek traditional desserts and they prefer us.”

Tsourekia with chocolate, melomakarona with chocolate, kourabiedes, baklava, and vasilopites are some of the sweets that you will find at Lefkos Pyrgos. “For fifty years, we offer traditional Greek sweets to the world. Best wishes to all those around the world who love us and we love them, too, for health, may they always be well, and we thank them for their contribution to Lefkos Pyrgos throughout the years,” said the owner Julie Pantazis.

On the corner of 33rd Street and Broadway in Astoria, the lights illuminate the display case at Omonia, which for 41 years has offered Greek traditional sweets to the Greek community.

“I wish the best to everyone around the world, throughout the Greek community and we need to on good terms and united because we only have one life to live. I always support the Greeks, the Greek community, from which I rose up. I love them and I want us all to be well,” said owner Yiannis Arvanitis.

He also revealed his new acquisition, which is expected to open shortly before the New Year, Amylos, a restaurant with modern Greek cuisine and cooks from Greece.

Kostas Mastoras, owner of Titan Foods in Astoria. Photo: TNH/Kostas Bej

Shoppers kept a steady pace at Mediterranean Foods in Astoria during the holidays. Photo: TNH/Kostas Bej

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