This week’s blog features a conversation between small-business owner Elli Nikolaou, of our Elli & Manos brand, and my partner-in-crime, Pauline, who also runs her own consulting business. From cooking to art to testosterone to politics, these two had a lot to catch up on and it seemed like a great start to October's National Women's Small Business Month to share their chat with you!
I’d been chasing Elli for the better part of a year, dying to have a proper catch-up with her, since it had been far too long since our last call and I wanted to know how she was managing in the ever-challenging world of business in Greece. Plus, I had to tell her that my mother is one of her biggest fans in the States (she freezes her half-used jars so they won’t spoil, since there aren’t any preservatives, and swears by them as her salvation in jazzing up leftovers, which my father usually refuses to eat!).
A couple of weeks ago, we finally managed a Zoom call and she confirmed, it’s been quite a year. "It feels like it’s just been one thing after the other. We had just gotten out of the economic crisis when the Brexit vote shocked us all; then we had a great year in 2019, with so much optimism in the country around a strong tourism season…and then Covid came. It felt like constant whiplash!"
You might be surprised to hear that Elli would be affected by Brexit, but besides producing her own line of all-natural sauces & spreads that we love to sell in the States, Elli also imports gourmet foods from Britain to Greece - chutneys, salad dressings, lemon curd & fudge, all those unique flavors she grew up with as the child of Greek parents in England and later enjoyed as a university student there. The UK’s decision to leave the European Union, which went fully into effect in January of this year, meant that imports & exports between the UK & Greece became extremely challenging. "The reality is that the paperwork was simply unmanageable," Elli told me. "It was NOT 'business almost as usual' and so I’ve had to really cut back on what I can bring over." Still, Elli has persevered and Greeks will still be able to find some English Christmas classics in time for the holidays.
She also continues to innovate with her own recipes, having recently launched a line of hummus blends for the local Greek market. “Most people don’t associate hummus with Greek food but with chickpeas being such a big part of Greek cuisine and with more and more interest in vegetarian and vegan food, it seemed like a no-brainer. We wanted to offer a shelf-stable product, since refrigerator space is at a premium in many small specialty stores, and we’ve been really excited at how our customers have responded.” Hummus with smoked lentils, sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant & olives…my mouth was watering, just listening to her!
Whenever I talk to Elli, we inevitably get onto the subject of testosterone and the seemingly excess amount of it in much of Greece’s business environment. I’ll spare you the details of her stories of arrogant collaborators, unscrupulous competitors and the like, for we joked that this kind of conversation needed to happen over a bottle of tsípouro and not over Zoom! Greece’s women entrepreneurs, though, are still holding on, and Elli is not one to cave in at a challenge. I asked her what she did in her spare time (besides cooking) to decompress from the inevitable stress of running a business in Greece. “DIY! Lately I’ve been in a do-it-yourself mood, catching up on home repairs & painting…but I also got a bit more creative, making a wall art with some coins I had. I sarcastically say these were last year’s profits, ha ha!!”.
I always get a kick out of Elli’s biting sense of humor and her straight-talking take on life in Greece and it was great to finally catch up. Elli’s creativity & perseverance are just two of the reasons why I’m so glad we’ve been able to work with her at Zelos and allow others enjoy her authentically artisanal products. Maria (and my mom!) have shared lots of recipes with her products - give them a try and let’s keep supporting our fellow women entrepreneurs (and not just in October!).
Have you tried any of Elli's products? Let us know what you think and share your own leftover hacks!
Enjoy the delicious taste of PDO Kimi figs from the island of Evia and bring the flavors of a Greek summer to your table. Hand-crafted by Kumilio using traditional techniques with no additives, preservatives, artificial coloring or flavors.