Gyro Worship – There’s more to the 37th Annual Greek Fest than just the food

It’s easy to take the Greek Festival for granted sometimes. Even in the economic downturn, the fest managed to do well, if not better than ever, last year.

“Our resolve last year was it was going to be the best and the biggest and the one with the most profit,” George Mamalakis, manager of the ever-popular gyro booth, says. Luckily, their hopes came true, and all proceeds went to the Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox church.

“The work is all done by parishioners and friends of parishioners. We were proud that in an economically challenged year, we did so well,” Mamalakis says. “Somehow, every year it all seems to pull together.”

Mamalakis and his volunteer assembly line make 4,000 gyros over the two days, all as piping hot as possible. He stands nearly the entire eight hours in the booth, making sure the line keeps moving. For those who remember, a cooker caught on fire early on the first day, and the booth did its best with a fraction of the equipment. Hopefully, that won’t happen this year, but even so, Mamalakis says the people waiting in line didn’t seem to mind.

Apart from gyros, the festival’s menu offers souvlaki, dolmathes, spanakopita, moussaka, tiropita and tasty desserts like baklava, kataifi, kourambiedes, koulourakia and melomakarona. It’s hard to find this variety of Greek desserts anywhere else in town, especially all in one place.

In the days and weeks leading up to festival, the function room at the church turns into a large assembly room and bakery, as the parish grandmothers and mothers (and their friends and family) get together once a year to make these sweet pastries.

“They work six or seven hours a day on this process,” Mamalakis says. “It takes a lot of love and time. We don’t send out for anything; this is all made by locals. This group is the bedrock foundation of the church women. Some get up at 4 a.m. to get the butter and eggs ready.”

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Oak Park, 300 W. Alamar
Cost: Free

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