Paros beer 56isles wins international Great Taste award

By Kelly Fanarioti

The beautiful island of Paros can boast not only about its Cycladic architecture and sandy beaches, but also the beer “56isles”, which a few months ago impressed the most demanding palates and won the “Good Taste” award over nearly 13,000 other entries.

The Microbrewery of Paros was founded in 2014 by Marinos Alexandrou from Cyprus and Nicolas Pavlakis from Paros, two young men who met in London during their studies. Their love for beer and for the Aegean island prompted them in the midst of Greece’s economic crisis to produce “56 isles” (the name comes from the 56 large and small islands of the Cyclades Alexandrou and Pavlakis wanted to pay homage to).

The idea

It was on a warm afternoon in London that they made the decision to set up a business together. “We were outdoors in a pub in Mayfair drinking beer,” they said to NEO. “There was some sort of event going on across the road and the area was buzzing with people that were outside enjoying their drinks in that lovely weather. That reminded us of those beautiful days on the islands having a cold beer under the Greek sun.”

“You can experiment with different ingredients and produce on an exceptional taste range, from the more traditional ones to extremely niche and interesting tastes,” says Marinos. “The exciting and creative factors were there and we were also trying to work out the commercial aspects of something like this.” He already had business in the leisure sector and we could see that craft beer was becoming quite popular amongst consumers.

Currently, they have their award-winning Pilsner, which is a light blonde beer, and they also started producing a Wit, the Aegean Wit, which is a fresh aromatic beer.

As they explained to NEO, they constantly experiment with ingredients and have a number of exciting recipes that they want to put in production. “This will happen gradually, as we want to be able to establish each product well before moving to develop the next”.

The beer is now available in Greece and they have just started exporting to the UK, Germany and France. The next markets will be Italy and Switzerland, while at the same time they are in negotiations with a number of interested parties from other European countries, Asia, Australia, Canada and the US.

“The US is a very interesting market for us, as Greek products are well received there, but we also had a number of people contacting us via email and Facebook to ask whether they can find it there.”

Marinos and Nicolas are overwhelmed by the warm reception that their product received from the consumers and they strongly believe that the beer market in Greece is definitely opening up.

“The warm climate and social factors favor beer consumption. The craft beer market is expanding and consumers are looking out for quality beer more than before”.

The “Great Taste” Award

Recently, the brewery “56 isles” of the Paros Microbrewery, got the first star at the “Great Taste” awards, the world’s most coveted food prize, which celebrates the very best in food and drink. As the young entrepreneurs admit, it was not such a surprise as they were very confident about their product.

“We do not want to sound arrogant but we have put so much effort and passion in making it and we spent endless hours perfecting everything. We knew that we had a good beer and we were confident that this was going to be recognized somehow.”

Their participation in the competition came after suggestions from friends that are in the food and beverage industry and have tasted the “56isles” beer. At first, Marinos and Nicolas were a bit skeptical but finally they made the application and sent a couple of samples to the awards. The next thing they knew they got the award!

“The biggest surprise was the delivery of the news at a time that we were not thinking about it. After we sent the samples we almost forgot it; a few months had passed without hearing anything and then all of a sudden in the middle of the busy summer season, we got the news that we won an award.”

The option of Paros

Their decision to start a business in Paros is not accidental. Apart from the fact that it is Nicolas’ the place of origin, the Cycladitic Island has a barley variety that is considered to be ideal for the production of beer. In fact, when the first beer production unit was started in Greece, they used to go to Paros and buy the whole of the barley production from the local farmers and producers

“We wanted to create a product with a distinct character. This is a craft beer that you would enjoy under the sun of the Aegean but it would travel from there to be enjoyed all around the world. People that go to Greece will enjoy but also take away with them good memories from the places, the hospitality and the tastes. We wanted to create a product that would encompass all of these and the setting in the Cyclades is ideal. The memories that people have when they remember the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of Greece are reflected in our blue bottle”.

Who is who

Marinos Alexandrou was born and lived his early years in Cyprus. After a short period in Athens he moved to London where he studied Business Economics and did a Masters in Finance. He started his career in finance and worked in Investment Management and Corporate finance and advisory and started investing and developing his own business ventures. He now run a portfolio of businesses with interests in the sectors of healthcare, leisure, property, F&B, tech and his latest venture, and a very exciting one, is the “56 Isles Microbrewery”.

Nicolas Pavlakis was born and raised in Paros. He studied public administration in Athens before going to the UK to do his Masters in management with finance. He lived in London for 3 years working before moving back to Paros with the aim of starting a business in primary production business, which led to the establishment of “56 Isles”.

Hilton Athens: More than a Grand Hotel; a Modern Landmark

by Kelly Fanarioti

”A hotel of immense wealth is going to be erected in Athens”, the great newspapers of the time wrote in the late ’50s. And they did not exaggerate. The construction of the chain’s first hotel in the Greek capital, which costed the astronomical amount of $15 million, was an important social, political, economic and architectural achievement.

Architect Spyros Staikos is presenting the hotel’s building plans to then Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis with future President of the Republic Konstantinos Tsatsos and Minister Emmanuel Kephalogiannis

In April 1963, the landmark hotel of Athens opened its doors to the public in the presence of Conrad Hilton, who had said: “I agree with those who think Hilton Athens Hotel is the most beautiful Hilton in the world”. This emblematic building on Vasilissis Sofias Street has 506 rooms, of which 34 suites, and the largest total number of rooms in the city overlooking the Acropolis. The rooms are spacious and all have a private balcony with stunning views. Hilton Athens has 23 conference and event rooms including a luxurious ballroom of 1300 people.

The building which was designed by the architects Emmanuel Voureka, Prokopios Vasiliadis and Spyros Staikos, presents the following originality: it belongs to the category of the big cosmopolitan hotels, however, its external form combines the modern with the classic. Pentelic marble is used, as well as the monumental reliefs of the painter Yannis Moralis, with their archaic themes, giving a “Greek” touch.

Conrad Hilton, with government Minister Panagiotis Papalegouras and ship magnate Stratis Andreadis at the inauguration of Hilton Athens

The official inauguration of the Hilton Athens took place on April 20, 1963, with three-day festive events gathering distinguished guests from all over the world and offering an unprecedented event for the city’s socialites.

According to Communications Director Tina Toribaba in an interview with NEO magazine, Hilton was the favorite meeting point of the high end – and not only – Athenians since day one, presenting new and unique experiences.

“The hotel offered for the first time a ‘barbecue party’, which today has become the favorite summer fun for all. It had also inaugurated Christmas and Easter meals in public space. Until then the great holidays were celebrated only in a close family context. At the same time, it introduced the Athenians to the burger and the club sandwich. Another pioneering feature was the establishment of the ‘Athens Art Gallery’, also known as the Hilton-Gallery, which operated within the hotel bringing together art lovers from various venues and places.

In 2004 the Hilton Athens was fully renovated to become the official seat of the International Olympic Committee during the Athens Olympic Games, and in 2011 the headquarters of the Organizing Committee of the Special Olympics World Games also held in Athens.

During the half-century of its operation, great personalities have passed through the sumptuous lobby of the hotel. Aristotle Onassis, the popular singer and actor Frank Sinatra, the Oscar-winning actor Anthony Quinn, the director and screenwriter Ingmar Bergman are just a few.

Director Ingmar Bergman with this wife at Hilton’s roof top enjoying the Acropolis view

“Heads of State, famous artists and internationally prestigious scientists preferred the hotel for their stay in Athens. Hilton has always been considered a reference point for the international jet set. In recent years, this impressive hotel has evolved into a favorite Athenean venue, whether to taste original American hamburgers and club sandwiches at the Byzantino Restaurant and or original cocktails in Galaxy Bar with its spectacular Acropolis view”, explains Ms. Toribaba. “It uniquely combines the services and facilities of a business hotel and a resort. Thus, in addition to conferences and business meals, guests have the choice of having fun between four restaurants, including the famous Milos, and two bars. At the same time, from May to October, guests have free access to Hilton’s outdoor swimming pool, the largest outdoor pool in the city center. ”

Author Julie Nixon Eisenhower

 

In addition, they can experience a few moments of luxury at the Hiltonia Spa, a fully equipped fitness center with an indoor heated pool, a sauna, a steam room and hot tub, a fully equipped Pilates Room and massage services. There is also a hair salon and a beauty center.

“As for in-hotel shopping, Hilton Athens has a news stand, a delicatessen, a jeweler’s shop, a brand name store, and a patisserie. In addition, the hotel has a barber and a laundry room,” says Ms. Tina Toribaba.

The most impressive living space in Hilton is the 220 square meters Presidential Suite which offers a spectacular view of the Acropolis and Lycabettus. In addition, it has a living room with home cinema, dining area, desk, kitchen with separate entrance, bedroom, bathroom with Jacuzzi and Acropolis view, WC and dressing room. “The suite also offers access to the Hiltonia Spa for use of the gym and indoor heated pool and the Executive Lounge with its own reception and a lounge offering drinks and small meals throughout the day.”

In recent years, Athens has been attracting visitors from all over the world exceeding its hotels’ capacity during the summer months. The same goes for Hilton. ”Bookings have been increasing steadily over the past years, mainly with people from Great Britain and the United States,” Ms. Toribaba explains. “Hilton Athens is not just a hotel but an integral part of the city’s social, business and cultural life. While enjoying a privileged location in the heart of the city, at the same time it is a haven of peace and relaxation. It also stands out for its aesthetics, elegance, discreet luxury and the natural light that is diffused on its premises”.

Finally, Athens Hilton symbolizes the warm Greek hospitality while providing services of international standards and it is a pillar in the effort to further enhance Athens as a preferred international tourist destination.

Script-Up! A social network for the screenwriters and the audience!

By Kelly Fanarioti 

Script-Up” launches an innovative initiative that attempts to link the benefits of contemporary electronic era to the creative skills of Greek screenwriters. 

It is essentially an online English-speaking platform that helps talented screenwriters to promote their work by drawing opinions and ratings from readers, who are the final recipients. The platform includes all kinds of a script (movies, series, theatrical plays, video games, and even books). 

Currently, the Script-Up team, in the context of promoting their online platform, is conducting along with Volition Pictures the first online short film screenwriting contest where screenwriters and readers can participate. Evaluator of the five scripts that will reach the final will be the acclaimed filmmaker, director and producer Steven Bernstein, who will read them and choose one, which will become a film by Volition Pictures on the beautiful island of Syros. At the same time, the five readers who have rated the winning script will win a Script-Up collectible hat and one of them a surprise gift. That’s why it’s important for the readers to rate all the scripts involved in the contest because no one knows who will win. Only Mr. Bernstein does.

Screenwriters who are interested can submit their scripts until the July 15th on www.script-up.com while readers will rate the best five.

According to Pavlos Fotiades, “this is a new way for the screenwriters to promote their projects globally and gather ratings and opinions from ordinary people”. “Viewers are the recipients of the final product and their opinion is really important. In addition, we wanted to make something simple for both the writer and the reader. So the writers are free to upload a summary of their script, which will not be boring, but instead, it will fascinate and intrigue the audience,» pointing out also, » it is important for the creators to have completed their script incase a Producer/Publisher is interested in reading it».

So whether screenwriters want to approach a producer / publisher or to use crowdfunding platforms, they will have significant data, which will be useful to them».

The multifaceted American director, Mr. Bernstein, is particularly enthusiastic about his involvement in this project, but also with the prospect that he opens in our country for the production of domestic and foreign cinematographic films.


«In the last year I envisage two industries in your country. From one, major foreign productions that will come to Greece and will spend a lot of money by encouraging the economy and helping new Greek directors gain different experiences and on the other, the existence of a domestic cinema industry by Greeks for Greeks. It is a great honor for me to be a judge in this important competition.’’ notes the award-winning filmmaker.


“The response so far is satisfactory and”, as Mr Fotiades explains, “more and more people are asking for information on how the platform works”. “There is of course the fear «of somebody might steal my idea», but what we can say in this case, and is something the screenwriters know very well, is that only the creators knows the development of their characters, the plot and the twists. And this information does not appear in a summary. The summary is a trailer in written form and that is one of the reasons we chose it».

The reasons why the contest will be held in English are very specific,” according to Mr. Fotiades. “Initially, since Steven Bernstein will be the judge of the top 5 scripts, the Script-Up team wanted to ease him”. «In addition, after the end of the competition, the «campaign», of the screenwriters does not stop. We will try to promote them on all relevant websites so that they become widely known, and they can promote themselves as well, on production/publishing websites. They can also ask for more ratings from the audience».  

Τhis particular script contest was also promoted by the famous Greek-Canadian actress Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, My life in Ruins) through her personal facebook account.

‘’Being supported by people like Steven Berstein and Nia Vardalos is more than just the highest honor. Whether it is a partnership in a contest, or a simple post on social media. It shows respect and recognition of your efforts.’’

Η ομάδα πίσω από την πλατφόρμα του Script – Up

‘’There are many plans coming up. Mainly for the platform and the services it will provide. And I can say with certainty both the scriptwriters and the readers will be excited. Surely our short-term plan is the new updated version of Script-Up where it will be mobile responsive.’’

‘’At this point, it is very important for me to thank specific people for their contribution to this effort, such as young filmmaker Vaios Tsimitras, producer – director Yannis Voliotis, illustrator Jakob Burgos, lawyer Ioanna Tsouroupaki and of course Steven Bernstein and Nia Vardalos for their support in the competition’’, Mr. Fotiades concluded.

More Information:

Facebook : script-up.com 

Contest Terms: Contest Terms and Conditions 

 

Striking gold in Greece with honey – and 24-karat edible gold!

by Kelly Fanarioti

The story of Yiannis Karypidis and his wife Stavroula Theodorou could be a script for a Hollywood movie. Seven years ago, because of the economic crisis, they were ready to leave Greece and emigrate to England–until an afternoon walk in northern Evia changed their plans and the course of their lives.

Now they live in Chalkida and produce organic honey made with 24-karat edible gold: which they export all over Europe, as well as Asia, Australia, USA and Canada.

Stayia Farm founders Yiannis Karypidis and his wife Stavroula Theodorou

As Karypidis explains to NEO, when the financial crisis ”hit his door” he had to find a job abroad while his wife attended a postgraduate program in her field. All that time, alongside preparations for going abroad, the couple avidly watched an ERT 3 show titled “True Scenarios,” which featured innovative businesses being launched in the agri-food sector.

“We made a day trip to northern Evia and found it to be a beekeeping area,” explains Karypidis. “It was then the time when start-up businesses had emerged in the agricultural sector and we thought about trying it out. We had to scramble at first–but it came out for the best.” That’s how their Stayia Farm came about.

Honey, mixed with 24K edible-gold, is what helped them grow quickly—they began exporting in only six months. “We tried the edible gold at an exhibition of olive oil and wine and we liked it. We thought about mixing it with honey and using it as a marketing innovation for a Greek product, because there was no similar product in the world. And the Vasilissa (Queen) Honey came to be. We launched it, and all this gave us huge publicity completely free of charge. It was the only honey with 24K edible-gold worldwide. And all this attracted, besides the local media, international media like Reuters. Everything was totally random. Our first ideas were totally amateurish, but we eventually succeed,” he says.

The Vasillissa honey mixed with 24K edible-gold, already exported in about 10 countries

He admits honey with gold has no more nutritional than simple organic honey. “But it has commercial appeal and it’s a novel product for business gifts and is in high demand in Arab countries, where money and show go together. But it’s not what sustains a large share of our sales.”

Most of their sales are for organic honey with royal jelly developed by Karypidis and his wife: an idea based on a study by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki that compared New Zealand honey with 29-percent Greek honey and showed that Greek honey had more nutrition. ”So we mixed it with royal jelly and it became a superfood!” he says.

EXPORTS

Exports of Vasilissa honey began in the first six months of operations. And within two years the company had enough sales and brand recognition to approach partners abroad. Now the partners come to them from all over the world.

Of course, says Karypidis, there’s still a great deal of mistrust of Greek producers by foreign businessmen. “This is due to older Greek producers, who often adulterated their products when selling them abroad. Fortunately, that’s changing and loyalty is slowly building and the standards of the new generation of Greek producers is much more consistent.”

After last year’s research that Nutella actually featured an ingredient that is a known carcinogenic, Karypidis and his wife decided to make a product for children that would be both healthy and tasty. So the couple began experimenting with honey and cocoa, without the suspect palm oil, gluten and dyes, and they ended up creating a perfect food for children, which they dedicated to their two sons.

“It takes a 60-hour process to produce this product and get it as pure as possible: it did not exist in the Greek market before. And because it’s geared to children and made with honey, it educates children on the taste of honey. A part of the profits, in fact, goes to the Melissa Female Orphanage in Thessaloniki.”

These products have been available now for nine months and are dedicated to their two children: Thomas and Kostas, depicted in front of the packages named ‘The Bee Bros.’ It’s honey with cocoa, honey with cocoa and banana flavor, and honey with cocoa and strawberry flavor.

“The Bee Bros” line, a healthy alternative to Nutella. It’s three flavors of honey with cocoa

“We are now being approached by markets that otherwise would take us two and three years to approach. We presented these products for  the first time in an exhibition in Germany and the reviews were very good. We now have orders from central Europe, USA and Australia,” he says.

The example of the Karypidis’ show that even in Greece in these hard economic times an ambitious startup can still succeed. I asked him what advice he would give to young people who are thinking of starting, from scratch, and alone, as they did, a business in Greece in 2018.

“I would advise them to be consistent in what they do and to keep timetables. There should be consistency and respect for the customer and the suppliers,” he points out. Regarding the age-old hurdle in Greece of starting a business despite the Byzantine bureaucracy, “the difficulties were real enough. Also, taxation in Greece does not favor young entrepreneurs in any way, but our persistence and stubbornness was such that we overcame all obstacles. Now we don’t think we’ll leave Greece even if they offered us one billion!”

Zylo: the Wooden Sunglasses of Syros Setting a Worldwide Fashion Trend

By Kelly Fanarioti

 

Published at NEO magazine

 

And yet it happens!

Pericles Therrios left Greece because of the economic crisis but then returned and found success with his life partner Eleni Vakondiou.

Pericles chased his dreams in distant Canada, but the climate didn’t suit him so he made a second life decision and went back to Greece.  The problems he faced when he returned to his native island of Syros in the Cyclades (Aegean Sea) included making a living. So with Eleni they decided to make wooden eyewear. “There are times where a simple morning thought is enough to change everything you take for granted,” he says. “The way you live, the way you work, the way you see things, your general state of mind.  We were lucky to witness a morning like that: when the light of the sun lights up an idea in your head.”

Gregos: his limited edition line of sunglasses is made from the wood of a boat built in 1979 and every pair is unique and numbered

 

The decision also rose from the fact that they were making wooden constructions long before that. As Eleni explains to NEO, they had all the machines they needed at home and woodworking was anyway their favorite hobby. “We were dealing with the wood as a hobby,” she says. “Then when Pericles returned to Ermoupolis (capital city of Syros) we decided to make it a business and he suggested wooden framed sunglasses. That’s how a beautiful journey for us started right here on this picturesque island.”

They made their first pair using olive wood, but chose not to show it to anyone. It took six months of trials before it produced the results they had in mind. “We started handling and shaping wood in various ways, learning new techniques and procedures. As we were training ourselves, the wood started to train and educate us, as well. We are thankful for every piece of knowledge we extracted from this process and proud of our creations.”

Pericles & Eleni, creators of Zylo Eyewear in Syros

Crowd funding

Deciding this would be their future, they appealed to the world to help them set up their business. Their campaign on the well-known Indiegogo platform went much better than expected, and in a relatively short time they managed to raise the money they needed. “The truth is we did not expect for things to go so well because we believed Greeks were not that familiar with the funding of various projects over the Internet,” Eleni explains. “That was a huge misperception—we’re very grateful to all our Greek supporters.”

Their handmade sunglasses under brand Zylo Eyewear didn’t take long to stand out and become known all over the world.  Online orders were steady and customer reviews on social media were and continue to be excellent. “People loved our products from the very first moment, and many people sent us small gifts and thank you cards to the shop. I think the fact that we started from scratch in conjunction with the quality we offer, is the cause of our glasses’ impact,” Eleni says.

The style of sunglasses particularly loved by the world is the one named Gregos, which according to Mediterranean naval tradition, is the northeast wind that brought the Venetians back home: a wind blowing from Greece. “My grandfather Yiannis was a fisherman and he was a very stubborn man,” notes Eleni. “He was known to the locals as to vremeno: the wet guy. He always came back to shore with his pants wet. His fishing boat was used by three generations of the family. We inherited his stubbornness and wanted his relentless commitment to his fishing boat to continue through our sunglasses.”

This limited edition line of their sunglasses is made from the wood of a boat built in 1979 and every pair is unique and numbered.

Difficulties

This “journey” of Eleni and Pericles has its share of ups and downs. One of these is the increasing knockoffs of their glasses in the Greek market. Eleni and Pericles say their customers report poor quality knockoffs at luxury prices. “Several shops were bringing Chinese glasses and promoting them to our customers. Many complaints have been made and many customers have even contacted the consumer counsel. This is still happening today; but we cannot change the world. We move forward and try to offer the best quality to our customers.”

Another difficulty faced by start-ups in Greece is the exhibitions where designers present their products. As Eleni explains to NEO, a company has to spend a fair amount of money at these exhibits to get the attention of people. “We have taken part in two exhibitions but the field of optics and fashion in general is difficult, tough and highly competitive. You have to get people’s attention.  I remember the case of a company that brought a catamaran to the showroom and showed its products in the catamaran. Another one made sweets on the spot and attendees followed the smell that came out of the oven and ended up in the particular pavilion. ”

These competitive trials and others make the two young designers sometimes lose their courage, but as they admit, their mood changes every time they look at their creations and then they start working with even more passion.

 

“Syros, the ideal place to live”

The place where Eleni and Pericles decided to set up their business is no accident at all. Apart from the fact that Syros is their native home, it is according to them a blessed place other bigger cities can be jealous of. “Ermoupolis, also known as the princess of Cyclades is a place you would never get bored. It has a lot of permanent residents and even in the winter life here is very beautiful and mostly qualitative”.

What the creators of Zylo Eyewear emphasize is not only the natural beauty of the place with the imposing mansions but the fact that all year round, great cultural and sporting events take place on the island. “The mayor of Syros, Mr. George Marangos, has done a good job for the promotion of our island. It’s really a place worth visiting all seasons.”

However, their love for their island directly affects their work as they try to show Syros in every way through their products. “We live in the center of the Aegean; we grew up near the sea, and under the sun. And that’s what we are trying to convey through  our design process.  From the names of the sunglasses, to their designs, the graphic creations  and  their  photographs, we  are  trying  to give the feeling of the place we live. From images of Ermoupoli’s houses, fields under the sun at the villages of Syros, everything relates to the bright blue color of the  sea  and  the  bright  light  of  the  Aegean  sea, reminding us its islands.”

 

Hotel Grande Bretagne still Brings Unparalleled Grandeur to the Very Heart of Athens

by Kelly Fanarioti

Published at NEO magazine

The monarchy is long-gone in Greece but the Grande Bretagne Hotel is still the acknowledged queen of Athens hotels, located in the very crossroads of its modern history. An architectural masterpiece right next to Syntagma Square, and across from the Greek Parliament (formerly the Royal Palace), the hotel is the most prestigious and award-winning in the country and it still dominates the square with its baronial grandeur.

And while history has teemed all around it the hotel has remained a bulwark of stately elegance. It all began in the middle of 1866 when a former farmer named Savvas Kentros established a small hotel business under the name “Grande Bretagne” at Karagiorgi Serbias street, a few meters below the current location.

Then a decade later, when the home of a wealthy businessman from Limnos named Antonis Dimitriou was demolished, the hotel relocated to that spot. Kentros’ partner in this new venture was Efstathios Lampsas, a keen entrepreneur who bought the building in 1888.

The building is like the grandest of wedding cakes and it has known the grandest of moments and history’s personalities: anyone and everyone from the world of politics, shipping, business, law and diplomacy. From Aristotle Onassis, to the Kennedy family, the Grand Duchess Eleni of Russia, the German composer Richard Strauss, and American presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lindon Johnson are just some of the great personalities who have passed through the sumptuous lobby of the hotel.

And it has hosted historic moments: in the basement of the hotel was delivered the war communiqué that introduced Greece into the war against the Axis. Immediately afterwards, an evacuation of the rooms was ordered to install instead various military and civilian services and a wartime staff of 40.

At the end of the Nazi Occupation in 1944, the hotel, like the country, went through numerous upheavals including hosting members of the National Unity government elected in the fifth floor suite, and Konstantinos G.  Karamanlis residing in the hotel for four months after the end of the military dictatorship. Another important moment for the hotel was the message that Archbishop Makarios delivered from the balcony on the second floor to the Greek people after the invasion of Cyprus. Most recently, the Grande Bretagne bore witness to the demonstrations in Syntagma Square against austerity measures.

 

The hotel is still the grandest jewel of Athens with 270 rooms and 37 suites that can satisfy even the most demanding visitors from all over the world. The luxury, the excellent service, and the historical importance of the hotel are unparalleled. However, for both the hotel and the city of Athens as a whole, peace is also good and the hotel now as before remains a bastion of civility.

The view from the royal suite balcony

This is one of the reasons that according to Grande Bretagne’s managing director Mr. Timotheos Ananiadis, the bookings have increased steadily over the past two years. “There is an increase reaching the levels of 2007 and this happens not only in our hotel but throughout Athens,” he told NEO. “Now the city is not the focus of foreign media due to protests as it has been before. This has resulted in visitors feeling safe and choosing the Greek capital more easily for their holidays.”

What distinguishes the hotel most is its service, including the award-winning spa which combines luxury with the unique aesthetics of the Grande Bretagne. “When the last major renovation of the building took place, our aim was the creation of a tourist hotel in the center of Athens that would include all the amenities any visitor would need,” says Mr. Ananiadis and adds: “We decided to create a high capacity spa, with its own indoor swimming pool, steam room, and anything related to the relaxation of the client.”

Equally impressive and equally relaxing is the Roof Garden, where guests can enjoy their meals or a drink while enjoying the views and companionship of the Ecumenical Historical Memorial of the Parthenon, Lycabettus, or the whole cityscape of Athens. “It is a hotel that after its last renovation in 2006 became ultramodern while retaining its historicity. We built a place in the center of the Greek capital, which is really an oasis in the bustling city,” Mr. Ananiadis explains with pride.

Apart from the award-winning spa and the impressive roof garden, the area dominated by the hotel lobby is just as important. It is the Alexander Bar that offers a unique aesthetic experience to its guests. This specially designed spot is dominated by a rare tapestry of the 18th century depicting the entrance of Alexander the Great in Gaugamela. This particular place was voted by Forbes magazine as the best hotel bar in the world.

Alexander Bar was voted by Forbes magazine as the best hotel bar in the world

According to the hotel’s managing director, during the last renovation the building was designed to make the visitor aware of its history. “In the winter garden there is a stained glass one 100 years old on the ceiling,” he says. “It is part of the old hotel and provides external lighting giving the visitor the feeling that he is not in the interior. This completely changes the whole image of space.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo: From the mean streets of Sepolia, Athens to the main courts of the NBA

by Kelly Fanarioti

Published at NEO magazine

In less than four years Giannis Antetokounmpo of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks has not only won his place in the fiercely-competitive world of American pro basketball—but also gotten his fans to pronounce his name—a tongue-twister even by Greek standards.

He was also voted among the top five players of the Eastern Division in the All-Star Game.

Along the way Giannis has also brought joy and pride to hardship-stricken Greece while making new and numerous friends in the US.

In fact Gianni’s life is a Cinderella story: he is the son of immigrants from Nigeria who for years tried to survive working odd jobs. He tried to fit in, but he truly found his salvation at the famous basketball court in Triton.

Spiros Veliniatis with his protege Giannis Antetokounmpo

THE DISCOVERY

The “Greek Freak” of today who may one day claim his place among the NBA greats would probably never be an NBA star without Spiros Veliniatis. This is the man who not only believed from the beginning in the17-year- old Giannis, but did everything to convince him and his family to take basketball seriously.

“When I met Giannis, he loved soccer and was dreaming of a career in it,” his former coach says in an interview with NEO. “It was extremely difficult for me to change his mind. His parents were not able to understand the true gift of their child. They were very poor: I saw their inability to make a living and I tried to do the best for them and Giannis. I told them I would find them a job if Giannis started playing basketball.”

The Antetokounmpo family. Giannis had to work from an early age

But Giannis wasn’t thrilled about training at first. As his 48- year-old coach admits, Giannis often skipped practice to help his parents. “So together with Mr. Loukas Karakousis – the Inspector of the Filathlitikos team-we decided to help the family so Giannis could train,” says his coach.

Loukas agreed to give them 500 Euros per month. “I was very sure about Giannis and I knew that in the end the ‘investment’ would pay off. And I remember in an interview Giannis said he was now committed to basketball. That’s when I knew that I had done the right thing.”

Only he might have been alone: many people in Filathlitikos did not believe in the talent of the young player. “He didn’t even know how to dribble the ball. Also, he wasn’t very tall: at age 17 he was only 1.90. But in the coming years he didn’t stop growing.”

And growing as a person. Veliniatis says the difficulties faced by the Antetokounmpo family played a key role in the brilliant ascent of Giannis in the basketball world. “This family had serious survival problems and did anything to earn a wage. The fear of the extreme poverty that Giannis had experienced was the biggest motivator,” he says. “Because of it he listened and worked. All we did was spot the talent and give him the technical skills. Going to the NBA from the poorest streets of Athens is equivalent to sending a man to Mars or to the moon.”

And Giannis hasn’t forgotten his roots even with NBA stardom. “He was something like father for his family. Giannis has never been a child. Maybe now he can enjoy life a little more.”

Spiros Veliniatis (first from left), age 18, with his team Care Coral High School Varsity, in Florida

“NOW WE DON’T COMMUNICATE AT ALL”

Veliniatis has no Internet at home so he goes to the nearest Internet café to see games of the Milwaukie Bucks and the highlights of Giannis’ performance.

“I am very glad and really proud of him,” says his old coach. “Even before Giannis I met some pretty talented immigrant children, but the ordeal was too much and some committed suicide or got into drugs. Having seen this I decided to ‘sacrifice’ myself for somebody like Giannis. Especially for three years in the beginning it was like swimming in an ocean: I had not only to convince him and his family, but my parents were severely ill at the time.”

Veliniatis says he’s now lost touch with Giannis and his family and the last time they spoke was last summer when Giannis and his brother Thanasis came to Greece. “Giannis had to deal with so many people. He said he would call me, but since then we have lost touch.”

Veliniatis says Giannis will have to stay grounded to withstand the pressure of the NBA. “He definitely has the mind to keep the balance needed. We will see along the way,” he says.

As for the comparisons Americans make between Antetokounmpo and other international stars of basketball, the 48 year old coacher believes that Giannis will reach even greater heights than Lebron James of the Cavaliers. “My only fear is how he will manage himself off the court. Inside the stadium I’m not afraid of him. His family and friends have to be his support system and his base. Giannis has huge potential. It used to be Onassis (the number one Greek celebrity), now it’s Antetokounmpo. He is the number one export of our country right now,” the coach says, recounting an incident in Copacabana ”when some Brazilians heard that I am Greek, they asked immediately about Antetokounmpo. This is incredible.”

Spiros with Giannis’ brother Thanasis, also a basketball rising star

NO HELP FROM THE STATE

To help other migrant children, Spiros Veliniatis now maintains an association with 90 girls and boys from Africa, each of whom he tries to help in life as well as sport.

His other discoveries include Michael Afolanio -the first African Greek, who also addressed the Greek Parliament; and Paul Jones, an officer in the Greek army, and many others.

“This is something I inherited from my German mother who was responsible for personnel in a large company and was supervising 5,000 employees. She used to take me with her since I was a kid and it really helped with my life as it seems”.

The reason why for so many years he has chosen to help the African community in Greece is that it is even more difficult for them to assimilate in a country like Greece. “Children among the Balkan countries have a predisposition to understand how Greece works, so as not to require much help. Immigrants from African countries, however, cannot decode the Greek society in which their family is asking them to live.”

His only complaint is that in all these years he’s had no support from the government. “There’s a lot of talent out there, but I’m fighting by myself. There is no need for the State to help financially, but it could help with publicity, such as offering an award, for example.”

Kosmidis – Gavrilis Halvas Drapetsonas: Greece’s Legendary Delicacy

by Kelly Fanarioti

Published at NEO magazine

The first thing you think when you hear ‘Drapetsona’ -a neighborhood of Piraeus- is undoubtedly the handmade halva “Kosmidis – Gavrilis”.

It’s a traditional Greek pastry, a favorite during Lent, made from sesame paste (tahini) and sugar, that in addition to its specific taste, is closely connected with the history of the neighborhood where the artisan workshop was founded in 1924. People of all ages flock every day to Agios Dimitrios in Drapetsona to buy this popular halva—including visitors from all over Greece and literally all over the world.

Nicholas Gavrilis

 

In fact, the line for the halva is half a mile long every year on Clean Monday, when the Lent commences: a scene captured by TV and newspapers as a local custom.

From 2002 until today, at the helm of the business is the 64-year-old former shipbuilder, Nikos Gavrilis who by a strange twist of fate worked since 1986 at the workshop in Drapetsona’s halva.

The history of the company’s halva goes back to the Asia Minor Catastrophe when Costas Mezardasoglou came to Drapetsona as a refugee and began to produce halva in a shed. As the years passed, he left the company to his son, George, who in 1984 met Eumorphos Cosmidis, the brother-in-law of Gavrilis, the other owner, and offered to help in the laboratory.

George at the time worked elsewhere because he could not make ends meet only by producing and selling halva. There he met Kosmidis. “So we met each other through my brother-in-law,” explains  Gavrilis in a interview with NEO.

 

Two years later, George Mezadarsoglou retired and left the company to Kosmidis and Gavrilis. Both, with their employees, have maintained the tradition and made the product popular all over Greece and beyond.

“I had absolutely no idea how to make halva,” says Gavrilis. “Until 1986 I worked successfully as a shipbuilder. However, because of Greece’s participation at the European Union my industry suffered a huge blow, so when this opportunity showed up I decided to take it up and I think I made the right decision!”

Indeed, his passion to learn was so great that he almost immediately learned the art of making halva, which may seem simple, but requires skill. “What we learned in 20 years, it took you five months to master. Bravo!” the original owner, Mezardasoglou told him when he visited the place.

Now at 64, Gavrilis continues to work with the same passion as he did when he started his career. “I spend more than 12 hours a day in the laboratory,” he told me and his face glowed like a candle in the dark.

 

As he pointed out, the process of making halva may seem relatively simple: however, it demands a particular technical difficult to meet and for this reason all of the staff is trained exclusively by him. “Firstly, we make caramel with water and sugar and then we mix it with tahini. The ingredients, the cooking and the handling initially show that this is a simple process but it is a complex product, which is difficult to be copied. It is like the painter who takes over a brush and paint. How difficult it is for someone else to copy what the painter does? So something similar is happening with halva”.

When you enter the shop there are many things to see. But you can’t fail to be impressed by the liveliness of the customers who pop in to buy the various handmade goodies. So I asked about the “secret” of the company’s success. The answer: “My passion for creation and development has played a key role.”

At a time when most producers sell products of low quality in order to make them more competitive, he chooses to give his customers the most natural ingredients, and judging from the demand they seem to appreciate it. “Perhaps the fact that in my previous job as a shipbuilder I constructed with great accuracy and rigor, helped me as something similar happens with halva. I want the best product, without allowing myself a mistake or deterioration of quality.”

This principle has guided him through the Greek economic crisis, as well. Instead of curtailing the business, it has expanded, by offering new products, including sugarless halva which is much tastier than it sounds.

Fame brought demand to sell the product to new venues within and outside of Greece. The online shop also ships directly to many places, making the product within reach even in the remotest areas. In New York City, Titan Foods carries Halva Drapetsonas and people can order it online as well.

However, “the way our pastry is made is such that does not allow us to do massive production. There is a great demand from abroad but we prefer to stick to our quality production instead of giving out mass quantity of a lower value product.”

Speaking with a really successful businessman, I cannot resist asking his opinion on the difficult period we are currently living in Greece, the period of Memoranda and unemployment.

He says those responsible for all these difficulties are the Greeks themselves. “Times are hard and things are happening that should not be happening. When the tax rate in tahini and in a gold watch is the same, 24%, you understand that the country is moving towards catastrophe. But we are responsible for the politicians we vote!”

Another obstacle in Greece’s growth, according to Gavrilis, is  that the majority of Greek people are still dreaming of a public sector job and consider entrepreneurship an enemy of their homeland. “There is generally a distorted impression of many things and this makes it very difficult for us to develop and move forward as a country.”

He believes, however that young people can make a difference. “We can’t lose our confidence in the new generation. We will die as a nation. We need to support our young people to believe in them, but they must take personal responsibility.”

“Snob Duck” handmade soaps from Tripolis conquer the world!

By Kelly Fanarioti

Published at NEO magazine
When successful people get asked how they accomplished something brilliant despite the hardships they faced they usually respond, “There is, no I can’t. There’s only, I want to.” This also seems to be the philosophy of 40-year-old Vasilis Douros, who started his own business in Tripolis in central Peloponnese just when the Greek economy was tanking.

Greek companies always had to face a myriad of obstacles—but Vasili defied the odds with a product you never imagined would sell in a country with plummeting salaries and ballooning unemployment: a handmade soap called “Snob Duck.” And it’s not only flying off the shelves in Greece, but also being exported to Europe and America–so apparently he beat the odds.

Vasilis Douros, founder of “Snob Duck” handmade soaps

 

In the Beginning

It began when he first learned about how the women of a village in Tripolis used to make soaps and decided to try it himself. Even though his own background was in music and retail—though he did work for ski companies, so he knew something about risk.

“It all started with plain curiosity,” he tells NEO. “And when I first came up with the idea, I thought this was a way to use the remaindered olive oil from my family’s olive grove. So I did, and I was excited by the whole process, because I had the chance to tinker with many different materials and do whatever I wanted.”

That was the start of a new professional journey for him, which he couldn’t even imagine years ago. Now he has orders from all over Greece, he exports his soap to New York, Cyprus, Germany and Spain, and he has willing suitors in famous multinational companies and interviews with the major media from all around the world, such as Monocle and The Wall Street Journal. And he did this in only five years totally on his own and through only the buzz in social media.

“Until now, I‘ve had no partners I do everything on my own,” he says. “The soaps are totally handmade. The ‘one man show,’ as I like to call it, has both advantages and disadvantages. One of its negative aspects is that I have no time to travel, visit expeditions, increase the number of my customers and meet the customers I already have. Personal contact and the pursuit of new market pathways are always necessary. On the other hand, I am the boss of myself and this is the dream of many working people.”

 

The process

Vasilis says the process of making handmade soap is simple and quick. What delays the process is maturation, which can take six to eight weeks.

“I use the cold method for my products. I use two bases. The first one includes the oils I use, like olive oil, coconut oil and almond oil, and the other one includes water and caustic soda. Sometimes I use fruit or herb juices instead of water. When I mix these materials I blend them slowly and ‘saponification’ starts. This means that, soda reacts with the oils and the soap begins to thicken, it becomes more viscous, like honey.”

He then puts the mixture in molds and lets it sit a whole day, until it becomes solid. The next day, he cuts it into pieces and puts it on shelves to mature. Maturation is necessary because all the liquid substances must evaporate, so that the soap is ready for use.

Recently, he launched something very innovative for Greece: the one-use soap. This is thin bars of soap, melting on the body during a bath, and sold in a metallic box. As Vasilis told me, this is the first time something like this has appeared in Greece.

Success

What makes Vasili’s story remarkable is how a boutique soap like this could attract so many loyal customers, particularly in Greece, who could have chosen a soap a lot more economical.

“I know it’s a luxury nowadays, but luckily I have many customers,” he says—with a grateful smile. Many of them, in fact, send him messages saying they haven’t used any other soap or shower gel since they tried his.

“Many people come in contact with me and this is also my own aim–as I always ask my customers about their opinion on my products. I want to receive feedback and ask them what do they like and what they don’t, because apart from the personal contact, which is a very important element, but difficult to find in our days, I also want to improve myself: to know what people want and what they don’t.”

The success of Snob Duck soaps, both in Greece and abroad, is due to one man’s hard work, but also to his faith in the product and his own vision.

“Although it all started as an experiment, when I decided to do it, I was persuaded that it would have success. Of course I don’t feel like a mentor, or like somebody who can give advice, but I was really confident about myself and I believe that this was one of the most important factors that contributed to that success of the Snob Duck soaps.”

Another reason for the popularity of his products could be the quality of the materials he uses, which are 100% Greek. “My soaps contain what I also put on my kitchen table. I never use materials of inferior quality.”

Including the packaging, which he supervises himself, because he knows it’s the first thing his customers see.

As for the name Snob Duck: it was inspired by his stint living at the ski resort in Kalavryta. “I used to live next to a guest house with many ducks in the garden. Every morning when I left home to go to work, they would follow me, but at the same time, they didn’t let me go close to them. That’s how I got the name. And, we also shouldn’t forget that ducks are a symbol of cleanliness.”

 

“Of course there are difficulties, but…”

Having accomplished something special in times so tough, Vasilis seems the right person to ask for advice, about young people who might have new ideas but are afraid to take the leap, or been discouraged by the high unemployment and difficulties the new generation in our country has to confront.

“The only thing I have to say is that there are indeed many problems for a businessman in Greece. Endless bureaucracy, high taxation, and many other obstacles for a person who wants to create something of his/her own, and it can easily disappoint them and make them give up. But are inactivity and nagging the solution to our problems? Of course, they’re not.”

Working hard, being persistent and paying attention to quality are some of the “secrets” that can make a business plan viable and successful, he says. But also that he didn’t compromise, for example by accepting the offer of an American multinational when he knew his product wasn’t ready for market.

“When you create something totally by hand and pay so much attention to quality and design you’re just not interested in selling just to make money. You have to keep the quality of the product high so people can trust you and keep on trusting you.”

His future plans include increasing his workforce, so that he finally has time to travel, expand to new markets, and find new customers.

“I believe that I’ll be able to move on to the next stage,” he says, with the same assurance that brought him this far. “I thank all those who trust in me and I promise to do my best so that my products remain of the highest quality, but at the same time affordable for everyone.”

Workshop brand handcrafted shoes made in Greece that have conquered the world

By Kelly Fanarioti

Published at NEO Magazine 

The handcrafted shoes called The Workshop that have conquered Europe, America and Australia in only their third year on the market could be a Hollywood success story.

It all started when twin brothers Alex and Jason Hatzianastasiou, together with fraternal friend Vasilis Alagianis, decided to create some espadrilles and show them to their friends. After all, they had the skill: when they were kids they used to spend hours in the small factory on Iolkou Street in Nea Ionia helping their father with his work. And Vasilis usually came along.

To show off their new handcrafted Workshop shoes to friends they made a Facebook page, but they never expected what happened next: the first orders from their friends came within a few hours and as time went on there came more and more orders. Two months later, the first shoe store in Greece approached them to stock their shoes, and with their workload increasing, the three friends quit their day jobs to dedicate themselves to Workshop.

Of course, it was a huge risk — in a country in crisis and with rampant unemployment. But they did it, anyway: Alex quit being a computer programmer, Vasilis quit working for his father’s construction company, and Jason quit being a designer for a large fashion chain.

But they did it and the results have been astonishing.

It all started when twin brothers Alex and Jason Hatzianastasiou, together with fraternal friend Vasilis Alagianis, decided to create some espadrilles and show them to their friends. After all, they had the skill: when they were kids they used to spend hours in the small factory on Iolkou Street in Nea Ionia helping their father with his work. And Vasilis usually came along.

 

“I could never imagine that the espadrilles we made one evening would be the beginning of such a fascinating and creative journey,” the friends and partners say. “We feel very lucky for what is happening to us. Of course, we worked hard and we grabbed the chances we had.”

I met them in their small factory which practically buzzed with their own excitement.

“We cannot describe our joy when our clients send as messages and ask us to make shoes for them or thank us because they were satisfied by our products,” says Jason. “We do something with a lot of pleasure and whenever we see that our creations get popular, it gives us a lot of satisfaction and strength to carry on.”

But they’re happiest when they see people actually wearing their shoes. This summer they had a thrill when they saw a group of three girls at a café, all wearing Workshop sandals. “We literally become like little children when we see somebody at the street wearing them. We nudge each other saying, Look, look, what they‘re wearing!”

Of course, it’s hard to support such large ambitions in the narrow limits of the Greek market. That’s why Workshop has sprouted wings and is now sold all over Europe as well as places like Finland and Russia. It is also collaborating with outlets in the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Australia, and last summer it got requests from U.S. stores.

“Undoubtedly, the recognition of our work is our greatest reward but we don’t want to focus absolutely on these proposals and neglect our Greek clients,” says Vasili. “We want our next step to be stable and show respect to both our local and foreign clients. We want our movements to be very well-organized and help us go forwards and not backwards.”

That’s why Workshop is working with stores from all over Greece, even while fielding orders online from all over the world. Their main exposure comes from social media, particularly Facebook, where their page has more than 40,000 followers. “It is a fact that the internet has helped us a lot, but I believe that other companies also benefit from it, because it is a rapid and direct means. One sees your job, likes it and gets in contact with you immediately” says Jason.

One of the main characteristics of Workshop shoes is that they are exclusively made in Greece, from raw materials to the handcrafting of the final product. But with factors like the country’s high taxation, Workshop is vulnerable against the products imported from countries with a more developed economy or countries with lower production costs.

When asked if they would sell cheaper shoes at cheaper prices to stay competitive their answer is nonnegotiable. “When you want to support the economy of your country there are few alternatives. I mean, a product can’t be as competitive as a product coming from China. So we try to offer qualitative shoes at low prices, as much as it’s possible. We are not going to change that in order to become more competitive”.

Cost of production, of course, cannot be denied. “If the final price of a pair of boots is 300€, we won’t make it, because there won’t be any buyers. Even if the result is going to be very attractive, we’ll withdraw.”

In Greece during the financial crisis, where investments have dropped more than 80% in the last seven years, it‘s at least impressive to see young people succeeding in such a short time.

So what’s the secret of their success?

Apart from hard work, they say it’s the chemistry and bond among them. That’s obvious when you talk to them. “If we didn’t feel that way towards each other, we doubt if we could accomplish all this.”

But what else?

The answer came a bit later when Alex, Jason and Vasilis explained that one of their priorities is building and preserving a personal relationship with each client.

“It means that if a client is not satisfied with a shoe that he bought from us, we can talk about it, we make the necessary changes and we want him/her to leave totally contented. Buying our products, being discontented and not getting in contact with us to discuss it and see what we can do, is the worst thing for us” says Alex with disarming honesty.

This personal contact they want to have with every customer is reflected in in the scale of their repeat buyers. Workshop refurbishes even shoes with normal wear so they can be worn again. “We want people to understand that we do have just a workshop and not a factory of massive production that produces millions of standard designs. Everything is handmade, and created with love, and our goal is that nobody is dissatisfied.”

 

During our interview they were constantly getting phone calls from clients of any age and that made me think of the natural question to ask: “What can the future of the young people be in a country which is collapsing day by day and killing the dreams of millions of people?”

Each one of them had a different message to convey, but they all agreed that hard work can show you the way to reach your dreams–an opinion much more optimistic than my own.

“We live in a time that young people turn towards the jobs that they would snub some years ago. For example, a parent who was a farmer would urge his child to study and become a scientist. Nowadays, many scientists go back to the farm, become farmers, and many of them become successful,” says Alex, stressing that living off the land might have a lot to offer if you’re willing to work hard.

Vasilis, who worked many years in road construction with his father and also in quarries in Africa, is the most restless person in the group.  He told me he couldn’t imagine how a young person without work can just stay home or waste his time at the cafe talking about the difficulties of Greece. “Greeks tend to blame others for their problems. Of course the situation is unpleasant, but young people must look for ways to bring an income home. Possibly at the beginning they won’t find what they are looking for, but they will certainly meet people who may be useful to them for their next job, where they will meet other people and so on. I believe that nothing can stop somebody who really wants to succeed. For some time you might have to do what we call odd jobs, but in the end, you will achieve your goal”.

 

Jason says he doesn’t let disappointment discourage him. “We must always be alert and keep our eyes open to grab at chances. After all, this is what we did. When we realized that people liked our work we took advantage of it and with a lot of work we got here. Nothing is taken for granted.”

Their work is not work because they love it, but they’re also grateful to the people who helped them along the way. “We are very happy with what is happening: something that started as a hobby and finally became a job. We feel the need of saying a big thank you to all those people who have supported us and believe in us. Times are not easy, there is a lot of competition out there and we are really grateful to all those who have chosen us to make their shoes.”