The history of the International Greek Food Festival -- now in its 34th year -- begins in the 1950s in a church basement on Center Street in downtown Little Rock.
That's when women of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church began baking Greek pastries to sell at Christmas, according to Philip Miron, chairman of the church council, who is overseeing this year's festival. These are the same Greek pastries from the same recipes as those sold at the festival, he explains. "So all these ladies -- my mother, my grandmother and women from all these great families -- were working in the kitchen."
The church on Center Street was previously a Methodist Church before it was bought by the Greek Orthodox Church and converted for their use in the early 1920s.
From making pastries in a basement kitchen, to having a booth at festivals -- including Riverfest where they sold gyros and their famous sweets -- the congregation eventually made enough money to move from the church on Center Street.
They built a new church in west Little Rock and eventually a new parish hall. "The money we generated from that," says Miron, referencing years of pastry making, "we built this church."
The first Greek Food Festival was first held at the new church in the Napa Valley neighborhood in 1985.
"It's a huge endeavor, as you can imagine," Miron says. "When we started over 30 years ago, it was a very small festival. Then as the festival got more popular, we started the drive-thru, which is also phenomenally popular." He says that a lot of the festival food can be bought at the drive-thru, but not all of it.
You'll want to come early, he says, because some items sell out." Baklava sells out fast, all the pastries and the Greek bread sell fast."
There are six new menu items this year: a Gyro Salad; an improved Greek Salad; an Olympic Sundae topped with loukoumathes, a type of Greek doughnut and honey; an "OPAtizer" plate; a "Vegeterranean" plate; and Ouzo Cake, a sponge cake drizzled with the anise-flavored aperitif. Organizers are also bringing back the Lamb Dinner, but instead of a shank of lamb, it will be sliced lamb, Miron says.
The focus of the festival is on the food, but there are also play areas for children with games and face painting, dancing from several different cultures, an Old World Market and tours of the church and its new mosaic. This will be the first time the mural will be on display to the public.
Parking for the festival is free. "We have trolleys, so people can park at Ashbury and the Agape churches and the trolley will pick you up and bring you right to the church.
"Our goal is to benefit not only our church, but the local community," Miron says. "We've raised -- in 34 years -- over $1 million. But we haven't done that alone. Many of the charities that we've given money to provide volunteers.
"It could not be as large a festival -- and we think we are the largest in the state -- if it were not for the volunteers from outside the church."
Charities benefiting from the festival this year and providing volunteers include Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, Community Connections, Easterseals Arkansas, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas, Wolfe Street Foundation, Youth Home and Arkansas Food Bank.
As wet as this spring has been -- it has to be asked. What if it rains?
"If it rains we have the hall. That's where all the gifts are and some food. We have huge dining tents and we will continue to serve. There's not to many times we've had a total washout. We're praying for good weather."
The Greek Food Festival is May 17-19 at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 1100 Napa Valley Drive. Admission is $3 or three canned goods; and free for ages 12 and under. Visit greekfoodfest.com for more information.
Baklava, always an International Greek Food Festival favorite, is made in the church kitchen. Philip Miron’s family — starting with his parents — has sponsored the Greek Chicken booth at the festival since its beginning. This year he is chairing the annual event.
High Profile on 05/12/2019
Print Headline: Greek Food Festival set to feed, entertain masses