Continuing a legacy of love for Greek flavours

An insider's look at the evolution of a family-owned Greek Australian business spanning over 35 years, Neos Kosmos follows Chris' Foods from its humble beginnings at a South Yarra delicatessen to what is considered today one of the country's most renowned food brands

If you were a South Yarra local back in the ’80s, chances are you had discovered a small delicatessen selling in-house produced taramosalata, eggplant and tzatziki dips.

Founded in 1982 by Christos Tassios – a Greek migrant born in Kanalia, a village just outside the city of Volos – Olympus Continental Deli became the go-to place for Greeks and well-travelled members of the broader community alike, in search of those Mediterranean treats which were hard to find elsewhere.

Among the regulars, Christos’ son Nicholas recalls, were celebrities and socialites of the time, including Molly Meldrum and Jeannie Little, while standard offerings were also part of the menu.

“Dad made really good toasties and coffees out of the Deli too,” Nicholas Tassios muses.

But what the family did not know, was that this business – home to their first range of dips – signalled just the beginning of a journey which would create one of Australia’s most beloved food brands.

Word quickly spread about the sought-after dips, and to keep up with demand the company moved premises the following year.

Full-scale production was set up in Northcote, with Chris’ dips reaching supermarket shelves, while Christos continued making deliveries from his own van.

In a challenging twist of fate, a fire broke out in the brand new factory causing it to burn down.

But Christos would not give up. As a matter of fact, the factory was up and running within five days.

In hindsight, Nicholas describes this incident as marking the moment when Chris’ was truly born.

Having seen his father doing everything he could to keep his dream alive, Nicholas concludes: “If he didn’t make that decision then to continue in business, there wouldn’t be a Chris’ today.”

Production was moved to Heidelberg in 1986 and finally to Chris’ current premises in Thomastown.

The family business would continue to grow, with the brand eventually established nationally in both the dip and yoghurt categories.

Nicholas emerged as the company’s Executive Director, with the aim of continuing his father’s legacy into the future following Christos’ passing in 2012.

After all, Christos’ passion about bringing flavours from his homeland to the tables of Australians and his belief that good food brings people together are the two main drivers inspiring the Tassios’ family to this day.

Meanwhile, it seems that the sheer determination which defined Christos’ attitude to life and business has also been passed on to Nicholas.

“He never gave up, I even look back today and think, how did he keep going?,” Nicholas comments and shares one of the greatest lessons instilled in him by his father.

“Even if you fail you need to keep going. It’s not about how many times you get hit, that’s inevitable in business, it’s about how many times you get back up.”

Christos’ presence and charisma continues to be missed by family, friends and staff of the company.

In 2015, in memory of Christos, Chris’ launched its signature Heritage range, a selection of gourmet savoury dips and desserts served within European terracotta pots.

A game-changer for the market, the idea born from Christos’ desire to introduce an authentic Mediterranean touch Down Under has changed the way Australians serve dips amongst friends and family.

Today, Chris’ Foods – the company’s name since its 2017 re-branding – stands out as the only major Australian owned and made dip manufacturer in the country.

With all of its products continuing to be made in Thomastown, the business employs over 120 Victorians, some of whom have worked there for over 30 years.

But, on top of continuing to bring homestyle dips to the masses, the company has ventured into new areas over the years.

“While our core business remains dips, over time we have evolved our range from just traditional Greek recipes to deliver dip, yoghurt and dessert products that are inspired by international flavours and ingredients from all over the world, ” says Nicholas.

The brand’s popularity nowadays is yet more proof of Australia’s love affair with Greek cuisine.

But at the same time, the Tassios family is well aware of the constantly changing market, understanding that consumers’ expectations from fresh food products are vaster and more dynamic than ever.

For Chris’ Foods, capitalising on these developments has helped the business continue evolve, innovate and outlive competitors who have come and gone.

“We are inevitably larger today with more staff, and experience the pressure from the industry to innovate to stay alive. We have more equipment, technology and systems that allow us to automate and be smarter about how we do business, particularly regarding our supply chain,” Nicholas reflects on the business today.

“Today, the complexity is about getting product on the shelf and ensuring that it’s the same every single time. The quality of our product is paramount to me and that’s one thing I’m proud of and will never compromise. It’s what keeps our customers coming back, ” he explains.

Product ranges are indeed attuned to latest food trends, but it comes as no surprise that classic Greek flavours, including the signature Chris’ yoghurt, tzatziki and taramosalata – with its caviar sourced directly from Greece – have not only passed the test of time but even see their popularity increase.

According to Nicholas, the main reason behind this is their commitment to offer the same quality in products and sticking to the authenticity of recipes.

“That’s one thing, consistency, we have never changed over the years.

Our customers are loyal, they’re not here today and gone tomorrow. We have a lot of people, customers and staff, who have supported us for a very long time.”

Running one of the most recognised brands in Australia’s food industry is no small thing.

But Nicholas says that what matters most is keeping alive the passion that made all this possible and of course honouring the heritage underpinning the brand.

“I do feel a sense of responsibility to take it forward but I’m so proud of what my parents achieved that I feel motivated by all of their hard work and I want to continue their legacy. I believe that you need to be humble, be passionate about what you do and the rest will always follow.”

The Chris’ Foods family at the recent 2018 Dairy Industry Awards. (L-R) CEO Arthur Xipolitos, Yiota Tassios, Maria Tassios and Exec. Director Nicholas Tassios