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Today's profile of Greek Women in Business is Katerina Georgallas, the owner of Mastiha Bakery in Kensington, MD. Katerina reached out to me a few years ago when she first started her business, exploring ways we could connect as fellow women entrepreneurs. When I learned that her family was from the Greek island of Chios, I knew I'd found a soul sister, because Chios has become my adopted home in Greece, thanks to my very proud Chian husband! Over the years, I followed Katerina's journey and growth, even if I haven't been able to make it to the Washington, DC area. Still, I've come to admire her so much - Katerina is one of these people that doesn't lose time dreaming about something, she just decides to live it and make it happen. Her bakery and her product assortment keep on growing and I also appreciate the social initiatives that she takes, like her recent #pitaforthepeople fundraiser for Ukraine. But what really made me want to share her story is the beautiful and respectful way she is projecting Greek culture, far from the clichés and caricatures. She is a true spiritual sister to all of us at Zelos and we feel united on that same goal to elevate the image of Greek cuisine and culture. I hope you enjoy reading this interview with Katerina as much as we enjoyed writing it!
Tell us the story behind your Mastiha Bakery!
My story stems from the culture of Chios, Greece and is deeply rooted in the tradition of my ancestors. I love to pay homage to my heritage in everything I do, from the name of my business, to the colors and patterns of my logo, to the native ingredients I bake with. Inspiration comes in many forms, but for me, I was influenced by the dedication to preserve the familiarity of the homeland by my great-grandparents. They not only owned and operated their own Greek bakery, but they raised seven children while doing it. It is important to me to honor them and my culture by sharing with the community. I initially started out wanting to specifically highlight baklava, the dessert of all desserts, but quickly evolved into incorporating other Greek baked goods. We now specialize in assorted Greek pastries, savory rustic phyllo pies, authentically-crafted pita bread, and small batch dips made with quality ingredients and old-world craft you can taste.
What is your philosophy and your goals?
Do all things with your whole heart. I put a lot of blood, sweat, flour, and tears into my bakery to get to where it is today. It took a lot of work, a lot of faith, and a lot of taste-testing, but I put my heart and soul into it to make it a success. The most important goal, to me when I first began this endeavor, was to show my son the meaning of hard-work. I want to emphasize that it is not an easy thing to start a business when starting a family, but it can be done. My goal is to continue to share my culture, my traditions, and my journey with the community that has endlessly supported me and my bakery.
What was/is the biggest challenge as a woman entrepreneur?
To be honest, the biggest struggle for me was the work-life balance. I am very dedicated to my family but am also very dedicated to my work family as well. Life is not always easy but I have a fantastic family support system and a terrific team of driven, hard-working individuals that helps keep the wheels of the bakery moving.
What do people think of your bakery? What’s your most popular product?
I am very fortunate to have an amazing community that truly shows up and shows out for the bakery. I truly believe I have some of the best customers in the world. I got really lucky, I really did. They give me great feedback, they challenge and inspire me, and they keep me motivated. Our customers LOVE LOVE LOVE our pita bread and dips but, for all the sweet tooth customers, I think a fan-favorite is the baklava.
Describe Greece in a sentence.
Greece, to me, is home. It is everything. It is my sanctuary, my reset button, my inspiration, my reason.
What's your favorite Greek food and why? Can you share your favorite recipe?
Probably the toughest question, EVER. I love food but I love Greek food even more. I definitely lean more towards veg than meat so I LOVE hórta (boiled greens), fasolátha (traditional Greek bean soup), and one-pot briám (traditional Greek roasted vegetables).
2/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
4-5 carrots – chop to the size you like. I like the carrots to be a little chunkier.
4 celery stalks
2-3 large onions
a couple of garlic cloves
a pinch of sugar
1 lb of white beans – great northern is what I use sometimes
salt and black pepper to taste
7 cups of water
Soak the beans overnight.
Rinse and chop the onions, carrots, garlic, and celery. Add a little oil to a big pot, add the chopped veggies, and sauté for a few minutes.
Add the beans and enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil for a few minutes. Then turn down the heat to low, add the tomato paste, stir, then place lid on and simmer for about 2 hours, until the beans are tender and soft. Check on the beans from time to time to stir and remove any foam from the top.
When the beans are ALMOST ready, add oregano, olive oil, a pinch of sugar, salt + pepper. Stir and do a little taste test, for good measure. Let them cool a little, pour into a bowl, add parsley, and there ya go... fasolátha!
Best served with feta sprinkled on top, and warm pita bread on the side.
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