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Manglis Turns Her Yiayia’s Loukoumades into Meli Greek Street Donuts

PALM HARBOR, FL – Irene Manglis had a dream. For years, she insisted that her yiayia (actually, proyiayia – great-grandmother) made “the best loukoumades in the world” and Manglis wanted to share that great taste with everyone. Now, her dream has finally come true, as she is the owner and operator of Meli Greek Street Donuts, a food truck that can be spotted up and down Florida’s Gulf Coast – in Greek and non-Greek locales alike.

Loukoumades are well-known throughout the Greek world. Non-Greeks might refer to them as the Greek version of zeppole (of Italian street fair fame), or more simply, honey puffs. Meli is the Greek word for honey, and Manglis calls them Meli donuts.

Manglis’ product surely fits the region. She is a lifelong resident of Tarpon Springs, a small idyllic city in Pinellas County that boasts the highest Greek population per capita in the United States. But for those not in the know, the entire area is heavily populated with Greeks, and Tarpon, aka Epiphany City, adorned with Sponge Boats and tavernas along Dodecanese Boulevard, is Florida Hellenism’s crown jewel.

“I bought a 40-year-old horse trailer and turned it into a kitchen,” Manglis told TNH. She and some of her close friends did all the work. “I can't tell you how many people thought I was crazy or laughed that I would drive around selling loukoumades out of it. I hope to be an inspiration for people who don't believe they can and always told themselves they can't. I know with hard work and humility everything is possible.”

Manglis’ entrepreneurial spirit includes other initiatives, including Greekmoji, an app she developed that features Greek emojis and is downloadable on iTunes. It started when Manglis wanted to send a frappe emoji to a friend of hers who had moved to Boston, but she couldn’t find an exact lookalike. So, she invented one, and that’s how Greekmoji began.

“I thought inventing Greekmoji was the best idea, but serving loukoumades streetside has surpassed Greekmoji for me,” Manglis said. “It's my great-grandmother's recipe. The best loukoumades I've ever had. I just twisted the recipe a bit. Meli wasn't just an idea for me, it’s my family tradition, it's my culture, it was my dream!” said Manglis, whose family mostly hails from Kalymnos. “I've poured my heart into every detail Meli has and every order I fulfill. The way to people's hearts is through their stomachs.”

In addition to her Pinellas County base, Manglis has ventured to adjacent Hillsborough and Pasco Counties, and advises folks to read her Facebook page, Meli Greek Street Donuts, to follow where she’ll be appear next.

“By the grace of God, the business is doing very, very well,” Manglis said. “Meli is booked solid into the new year with weddings, parties, and baptisms, and even Greek festivals.” Typically, churches handle their own loukoumades internally, “so to get even a few calls from Greek churches for orders is an honor. “I am so happy! What a blessing it has been!” she said.

Meli extends far beyond just Greeks, Manglis told TNH. Non-Greeks tell her that her Meli donuts beat Dunkin, and her frappes beat Starbucks. “It’s no surprise that Greeks have created a culinary name for themselves,” she explained, “and non-Greeks have taken notice. I want people to know that loukoumades are Greek donuts, and who doesn’t want a Greek donut?”

Meli’s other items include various specialty coffees. Besides the original Greek frappe, which Manglis tries to make just like in Greece – “it all depends on your froth and dairy products, and I pride myself in using high-quality ingredients” – she featured a pumpkin spice frappe during the fall and for winter has a Crock Pot Hot Chocolate made with Greek Ion chocolate.

What’s next in store for Meli? With God’s will, Manglis says, she wants to own more than one Meli. “I want the whole world to know there’s such a thing as a Meli Donut!”

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