NORFOLK, VA – Greek festivals across the country have adapted to the new normal this year with many in-person festivals canceled or transformed into drive-thru events with online ordering and pick-up of the festival favorites foods like souvlakia, gyro, pastitsio, and baklava.
Among the communities adapting their festival is the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 7220 Granby Street in Norfolk, which was featured in The Virginian-Pilot (VP) for its efforts to present the Norfolk Greek Festival while following the health and safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Annunciation Cathedral’s Greek Fest Express Drive-Thru takes place December 10-12, 10:30 AM-7 PM.
According to the festival’s website, the event is Tidewater’s oldest and largest ethnic festival and proceeds from the festival benefit the Cathedral’s Ministries as well as local community charities. The Norfolk Greek Festival began as part of the 75th anniversary of the Annunciation Cathedral in 1986. Its origin dates back to the early 1950’s when the Hellenic Woman’s Club (a leading organization of the Annunciation Cathedral) began operating its weekend bazaar. The ladies of that organization spent endless hours selecting the most popular recipes for the delicious Greek foods and pastries that were served at the bazaar.
Steve Webb and Mike Griffith are the co-chairs of the festival this year. Previous festivals were “an elbow-to-elbow powerhouse of dance, music and food devoted to the exact opposite of social distancing,” VP reported.
Webb told VP, “If you’ve been, you know. There is usually zero social-distancing stuff going on.”
“Last May, as many as 60,000 people arrived at Granby Street’s Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral” VP reported, adding that this year, “festival volunteers will instead deliver” festival foods “to a line of waiting car windows snaking 85-deep through the church’s parking lot,” and “walk-up service will not exist.”
Webb told VP that “when you show up, you’ll get a menu handed to your car, with greeters waving to people from a distance, and music playing outside to add to the festive atmosphere.”
“But for a festival the size of Norfolk’s, along a busy thoroughfare like Granby Street, there are some serious logistics in play — lest the drive-thru line back up traffic for miles,” VP reported, adding that meetings with Norfolk city officials pushed the date of the festival to December.
Webb told VP, “We’ve just gone through painstaking meetings after meetings, and Zoom calls after Zoom calls with the city… Finally, we have a date. Thursday was our last possibility — we can’t do it any closer to Christmas. Thank god, the weather seems to be turning in our favor.”
“We were thinking whatever the drive-thru normally does in business, we’re going to double that number, that’s how we’re able to purchase the food, purchase the drinks,” Webb told VP.
The festival ordered “5,000 gyros, 2,500 orders of chicken souvlaki, 1,500 servings of pastitsio, [and] a whopping 8,000 orders of baklava,” VP reported, adding that “Webb’s co-chair, Griffith, an engineer by trade, looked into the logistics of how to serve that vast volume of food, ‘crunching numbers and doing analysis and spreadsheets’ in order to ‘streamline every piece of baklava.’”
Webb told VP, “We’re going to look at it like a Chick-fil-A, do you ever complain when you go to Chick-fil-A and there’s a line? No, because they’ve got their stuff together, and they’ve got the right model. And we piggyback their model on the foods that we’re selling. So I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as people think.”
The menu has been streamlined for the festival and people will also be able to order via Facebook beginning on the morning of the festival, “with a priority car line for people who’ve ordered ahead,” VP reported.
“For further speed, the festival organizers disallowed cash payments, and got rid of ingredient substitutions,” VP reported, noting that “the gyro is the gyro, and if you don’t like lettuce you’ve gotta pick it off. The baklava is the baklava, four pieces to an order.”
Webb told VP, “It might be four years before people feel comfortable. Our festival is known to be people on top of each other, in a good way. They dance together, eat together, they’re in the tent. It’s a fun party, like the Greek islands. It’s wall to wall. And until we can get back to that, then I say we keep doing the drive-thru.”
“After we get some information and get some help, well shoot: Maybe we should open it up to a few more items and make it bigger and better,” Webb told VP, “but right now, we’re keeping it simple, clean and delicious.”
More information about the Annunciation Cathedral’s Greek Fest Express is available online: https://norfolkgreekfestival.com/.
Menu and online ordering with credit and debit cards only, are available on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/norfolkgreekfestival?fref=ts.