Kathy Tsaples truly lives up to the name of her business. She really is a sweet Greek. And by sweet, I mean the embodiment of a hospitable, nurturing, mothering Greek. Her story is that of a woman’s courage to ensure her dream would become a reality.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Kathy was diagnosed with cancer. Throughout her illness – the 18 months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that meant her survival – one dream kept her going; to open a shop and serve nourishing, homely and beautiful Greek food. “I’m very passionate about authentic Greek food,” says Kathy, “the fresh ingredients, olive oil, seasonal vegetables. All I wanted to do was take it and be able to cook for families the way we learnt how to cook.” George Christopoulos of Belgian Beer Cafe fame, and a dear friend of Kathy’s, helped her make this dream come true.
“George was able to open the shop and I was the person who cooks and presents the food and pastries.” Five months ago the dream was realised after the shop opened in at stall 702 at Melbourne’s Prahran Market. Sweet Greek Stall offers the best of Greek cuisine – from take-home authentic meals to spanakopites, tiropites, Greek sweets and even regional imports for homesick Hellenists – like the Ion chocolate range and mastica from Chios.
Working from Kathy’s home-made recipe book, Sweet Greek Stall has its own production kitchen, where qualified chefs work with fresh produce to recreate these classic dishes. “I wrote a recipe book so the chefs follow that to a T. They source the freshest ingredients. There are no preservatives, no fillers, no chemicals, so that means we don’t have long dates on our food but that’s how we maintain the freshness of our foods and the integrity of it.
“The food is exactly how I cook it here at home, the way my mum taught me – using lots of fresh ingredients, lots of spices, and cheese kefalotiri. We don’t take any short-cuts to create really beautiful food. One of the chefs couldn’t understand that the sauce of kokkinisto thickens naturally through the four-hour cooking process – he thought you must have to put cornflour in it.” Classic homely Greek dishes such as pastitsio, moussaka, kokkinisto, soutzoukakia with feta are offered in take-away containers, so you can microwave it or put it straight in the oven. “On Saturday’s we do yemista, we do soupes – all served in bulk on the tables, and people can buy in bulk freshly cooked.”
A committed advocate for Greek food, Kathy won’t stop until everyone in Australia can pronounce kefalograviera.
“Greek food is so good, with our olive oils, our spices and tomatoes – we need to put Greek food on the map and expose it. That’s why all the meals themselves will not be written in English, yemista are yemista! People will come in now and ask for yemista, I want them to learn to say the Greek foods like they’ve learned to pronounce other cuisines’ foods. We serve loukoumathes on the weekend, There is always a queue, and believe me, people know how to say loukoumathes!”
The main driving force of this business venture, and what makes it as homely as it is commercial, is the ethos behind what Kathy is doing. She wants to be a surrogate mother to those whose situations might mean they’re missing out on nourishing food.
“This way we can provide for busy mums and dads for their family. I have so many single people coming in to say it’s much more cost effective for me to buy two or three of these dishes than it is for me to go out and do my shopping. My whole dream was to be able to produce this beautiful food for busy mums, families, people who need it. I was a career woman, and in my day I would have loved to have had the option to buy home-made meals. I was lucky, I had my mother helping and cooking.”
That’s what Kathy wants to replicate, coming home to a home-cooked meal made by your mum. “I love being this surrogate mother – to cook and to nourish them. I can’t imagine doing it any better than with Greek food.” Sweet Greek Stall Stall 702 Prahran Market South Yarra, Melbourne. Tel (03) 9826 0608