CHICAGO – Attracting exhibitors and attendees from around the world, the windy city’s largest foodservice expo could not be complete without the Greeks. A weekend of food, beverage and dessert tastings, networking, and business dealing, the National Restaurant Association Show brought together over 67,000 foodservice professionals to observe the latest industry trends in ingredients, restaurant technology advancements, kitchen gadgets and more.
The show included celebrity chef demonstrations and specialty features such as a kitchen innovations showroom, startup alley, innovation hub and restaurant growth conference. Among Greek-affiliated companies present were Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery, Grecian Delight Foods, Devanco Foods, Zoe’s Meats and Kronos Foods.
Growing in popularity In the U.S., a healthy eating trend has brought to light the many advantages of what is known as the Mediterranean diet – inspired by the cooking habits of Greece, Southern Italy and Spain. Concentrated in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish, the Mediterranean diet is considered a way of living proven to boost health and prolong life.
In fact, in 2013, UNESCO added the Mediterranean diet to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, citing that the diet “involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food.”
Additionally, according to UNESCO, “the Mediterranean diet emphasizes values of hospitality, neighborliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity.”
At the NRA Show, Greek-inspired ingredients and dishes included local and imported products ranging from fast food to gourmet. Grecian Delight Foods displayed an array of spreads including Mediterranean sauces, tzatziki, hummus and more, as well as their award-winning falafel and labor saving pre-carved gyro.
“Our goal is to educate the world on Greek and Mediterranean foods one serving at a time,” said Peter Parthenis Jr., CEO at Grecian Delight Foods. “And it’s not just the food, it’s the food and the culture,” he said.
As America’s taste for Mediterranean food becomes more noticeable in supermarket aisles filled with Greek yogurt, pita and hummus, the demand for Greek street food is also on the rise. “Street foods are very popular,” Parthenis Jr. said. “People are looking for bold flavors and global flavors.”
Feeding the trend with traditional flavors, Greek and ethnic fast food product manufacturer Devanco Foods served up savory gyros and pita throughout the day.
Second generation in the family-owned cake business, Chicago Sweet Connection Director of Operations Peter Kallis presents the Baklava Cheesecake at the 2018 NRA. (Photo by TNH/Anthe Mitrakos)
“Devanco Foods started in 1994. It was originally a company called Central Gyros, and that company invented gyros, so we like to say we’re Chicago’s first and finest gyros,” said Regional Sales Manager George Kanavas. “We make what we think are the best products in the industry,” he said.
California-based Zoe’s Meats presented cured meat, artisan cheese, olive oil and Greek ingredients. Founder George Gavros has helped introduce other Greek brands into the market by expanding his product line, citing the market’s challenges.
“My hope is to help a lot of these folks understand the American marketplace and that it takes real investment of their time to grow here,” Gavros said.
Catering to Chicago’s sweet tooth was Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery, a manufacturer and wholesaler of freshly baked European and ethnic themed cakes and sweets. Over 30 years in the dessert industry, Chicago Sweet Connection is operated by the Giannopoulos and Kallis families.
“It’s hard to work with your dad…I guess that’s a Greek thing, but it’s fun,” said Director of Operations Peter Kallis. “Everybody likes cake. It’s supposed to make you happy. We’d like to think that we are an important part of celebrations that bring people together,” Kallis said.
The NRA Show 2018 was held at the McCormick Place May 19 – 22.
FILE – Zoe’s Meats Founder George Gavros talks artisan cheese, cured meat, and Greek ingredients at the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. (Photo by TNH/Anthe Mitrakos)