"My dad always had to explain to customers that hummus isn't actually Greek," Socrates Xanthopoulos says. His father, Thomas, had brought the family to the States from Greece in 1988 and spent close to 20 years working in the restaurant industry, including a stint as the executive chef at Periyali.
Then, seeing the rise in popularity of both hummus and Greek yogurt, Thomas decided to start a business making healthful, flavorful Greek dips and spreads, one of his specialties, for the home market.
The initial product launch includes tirokafteri, a creamy, spicy feta dip; fava, a yellow split pea purée with onions and capers that's like hummus with a more bean-y flavor; melitzanosalata, a roasted eggplant purée with roasted red peppers; and skordalia, a smooth, bread-based garlic and almond dip.
When it came time to choose a name for the venture, the Xanthopouloses thought long and hard about it. They wanted something recognizably Greek, but easy for those not familiar with the language to say and remember. Gefsi (pronouced YEF-si) was the name that stuck. "It translates to 'flavor' and 'taste,'" Socrates explains, "which is what he really wanted people to enjoy about that dips."
The elder Xanthopoulos insisted on high-quality ingredients along with authentically Greek recipes. "My father wants to stay true to what he'd put on a plate in a restaurant," Socrates explains, adding, "People get a lot for their money. They're about the same price as hummus, but chickpeas are cheap and feta can be $10/pound."
It's been fun for the father and son to work together too, and their skills balance each other nicely. "My dad's not a shark," Socrates says, "but I know a lot about business. He's glad he has family support."
Gefsi products are currently available in around ten grocery stores in Astoria, but thanks to a recent distribution deal, will be more widely available throughout the northeast in early 2013. Thomas is thinking ahead to new products too, including new flavors of skordalia and fava.
"When he comes up with something good, he just wants to share it with everyone," he says, "People are getting a little bit of my dad's passion."