Many great things have come to be born out of adversity, and Pavlos Katsivardas and his family can attest to this.
He and his wife decided to move to Australia for a new beginning with four of their seven children in 2016, from Amaliada, Greece. After working hard to build their local work experience, they decided to open a pizza shop, their own family business. But little did they know that when they went home on the night of 3 December their world would be turned upside down.
“We went back home and found our dog dead from poison. For us it was a devastating day,” Pavlos tells Neos Kosmos.
Just one week prior to that incident, their dog had initially been poisoned, and they’d rushed their beloved pet to the RSPC vet hospital, managing to save him just in the nick of time. What they didn’t anticipate was that the perpetrator would attempt it a second time, and succeed.
“That night my wife and I decided to become vegan. Vegans not for the diet, but for the philosophy of veganism, and the way of living and existing. That was our reaction, our protest, to the cruel world we are living in,” he says.
Not ever wanting to deal with animal products again, the couple awoke the next day just as passionate about their new philosophy, went to their pizza shop and closed it down. The next day they registered their new business venture – Greek Vegan Bakery.
With 30-odd years in the hospitality industry under his belt, Pavlos, and his wife, an experienced cook, put their heads together and started experimenting with recipes, finding ingredients to substitute the animal products in all their Greek favourites, to get the texture and flavour right.
“When you become a vegan, you start thinking, what am I going to eat now? How am I going to have my bougatsa, and my moussaka? We were trying moussaka with lentils, moussaka with mushrooms. We ended up choosing what we thought was the best recipe, and it’s become very successful,” he says, and the same goes for their bougatsa, tiropita, spanakopita, galaktoboureko, and yemista, which are six of their best sellers amongst a long list of options on offer.
They first trialled their creations in the Sydney market circuit, and after a positive response opened a shop in Revesby in Sydney’s south-west. People drove up to two hours to try their vegan products, and, as a result, just three months after opening their doors, last week they opened their second store in Newtown.
Aside from being 100 per cent cruelty-free, Pavlos and his wife pride themselves on using products made in Greece, including their olive oil, oregano, and vegan cheese. Made in Crete and called Oliana, the feta is made from coconut oil with a process as natural as possible, and is a substitute they’re particularly excited about.
Meanwhile the husband and wife team are also planning on importing other vegan products from Greece such as mastiha from Chios, saffron from Kozani, and other dried herbs to sell in their stores.
“We have a lot of customers coming in and saying ‘Wow! Greek vegan food, how can you do it? Greek food is about souvlaki, tzatziki, feta and things’. But this is not right actually,” says Pavlos.
“All this is influenced by the 400 years of captivation under the Ottomans. The Greek cuisine for thousands of years was based on the fresh vegetables, legumes, and fruits, and the good climate that we have in the Mediterranean to grow them. Greek and vegan are on the same page, they go together.”
Pavlos is on a mission to dispel the perception that Greek food is all about meat, and is going right back to the 6th century BCE to prove his point. In his store he cites the work of Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who the International Vegetarian Union claim is said to have been the first prominent modern vegetarian. They say until 1847, when the first vegetarian society was formed in England, vegetarians and vegans were referred to as Pythagoreans.
Pavlos has also made a conscious decision to not translate the names of dishes, and instead sells them with their original Greek names that showcase the emphasis on vegetables.
Word has spread quickly about the Greek Vegan Bakery’s success. With their two-year anniversary in Australia approaching, while he admits his new reality hasn’t yet quite sunk in, Pavlos has no plans to stop any time soon, and is committed to sharing his vegan philosophy as far and wide as he can, and to honour the memory of their dog.
“They’re contacting us from all over Australia ‘We want your products here’ – it’s amazing. We are planning on opening more shops in central Sydney and Bondi area because there is demand. It started from the death of our dog – we dedicate our business to him – and it turned into something so good for us,” he says.
“But we believe life is like that; bad and good are not different things; it’s just one coin with two sides, yin and yang.”