A labor of love

Greek To Go offers bake-from-frozen options.

A small dream among a group of friends led to a full-fledged company. Greek To Go was originally developed by Esther Koukios and her two friends. Today, Koukios remains the company’s sole owner.

“Maria Misser, Katerina Bichay and I started this business a decade ago — it was their love of our culture and our desire to share it with others that got Greek To Go off the ground,” Koukios said. “They are wonderful chefs — and friends — and if I ever need them for an order or party, they are always there to help. Katerina also has a love of teaching and joins me regularly for our cooking classes.”

The company began as a small effort in 2009 to make food for friends and family, but in 2011, Grand River Grocery (formerly located in Ada Village) came knocking. “Grand River Grocery asked if they could sell our baklava,” Koukios said.

That move helped the trio legitimize the business and begin pursuing other opportunities. “From there, with an existing relationship with Jeff VandenBerg, owner of Forest Hills Foods, we pursued the idea of having our items in his freezer case and bakery. To date, Forest Hills Foods remains our best-selling store,” she said.

In 2012, Koukios took over ownership and continued the business with help from her husband, Jim Koukios, former owner of the recently closed Red Hot Inn.
“I could run the business alongside of his, while my partners went on to other projects and family,” she said.

With the closure of Red Hot Inn, Koukios is now looking for a new location to operate Greek To Go’s production and catering.

Without a brick-and-mortar location, Greek To Go sells its products two ways: through local grocers and farmers markets and online ordering. “We are a little different than your average supplier — we supply ‘bake from frozen’ options like spanakopita (spinach pie) and tiropita (cheese pie) to local grocers,” Koukios said. “These are included in their prepared frozen foods section — and can be kept in the freezer for up to 6 months. We also supply baklava (a honey walnut pastry) that can be found in the bakery section of many stores. But we also service many farmers markets throughout the selling season, offering those three staple items and a packaged Greek seasoning mix that allows grilling to really go to the next level.

“We also supply to local restaurants who want to serve these items on their menu. And, we offer a full catering menu to any individual or business. The best aspect of this is we can customize as we create the order — from bite-size snacks and appetizers to full-blown meals for 100. Moreover, if a client states, ‘I remember this one dish I had in Greece one time ….’ we can recreate their memory for any size party.”

Some of the other items Koukios cooks up regularly include moussaka (eggplant), gyro (shaved lamb), hummus, salads, soups, breads and pastries.

Greek food has garnered an excellent reputation as a healthy diet in the last decade. “Our use of olive oil as a primary fat/cooking ingredient offers so many benefits like antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and protection against things like heart disease and strokes. But it’s not limited to olive oil as the fat source — it’s heavy reliance on vegetables (locally sourced when possible) that also carries so many benefits to the whole family.”

“It takes tremendous people power to hand-roll every single cheese or spinach pie. … Every item is hand prepared — we don’t cut corners or outsource steps.”
Esther Koukios

Because of its agricultural diversity, Michigan is a great location for finding many of the necessary ingredients for Greek recipes. Koukios said summertime is an especially good time to eat Greek food.

“The fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, staples in a Greek ‘salata’ — a salad without the lettuce — are outstanding,” she said.

She also is a regular shopper at Mediterranean Island, near the corner of Kalamazoo Avenue and 44th Street SE. “For example, the Greek version of lasagna is pastichio. In Greece, the pastichio noodle is very common to find. In West Michigan, not so much. So, I am fortunate to find it at Mediterranean Island when I need it.”

Koukios is committed to sharing Greek cooking through Greek To Go. “This isn’t easy work — it’s a labor of love and devotion to my heritage,” she said. “I can still hear my YiaYia (grandmother) telling me how to chop one way or sauté another. I cherish those memories as I now pass on skills and stories to my own sons — and the employees who I have been blessed with.

“It takes tremendous people power to hand-roll every single cheese or spinach pie. There is no machine automation that takes our products into high production. Every item is hand prepared — we don’t cut corners or outsource steps.”
While she is interested in growing her business, Koukios also is committed to ensuring it’s always “a job I love.”

“I know that I will never own a restaurant,” she said. “Having worked with my husband and his family for the 35 years he ran the family business, Red Hot Inn, I know first-hand the effort it takes to run a restaurant. My vision is similar to a big kitchen, with an open door, a friendly face to chat with — making all the items I love until we run out for the day. No exact hours, menus that evolve and change with the seasons — and if I need to run back to Greece to soak up the sun and pick some olives, I can!”

Visit greektogofoods.com.

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