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Organizers prepare for annual Greek Fest

PLANNING — With Holy Trinity Orthodox Church’s 35th annual Greek Fest just days away, committee members and corporate sponsors gathered Thursday to sample the Greek cuisine and music at the heart of the festivities. On hand for the event were, from left, Nick Demitras, Greek Fest co-chair; Amanda Wurst, senior vice president of Communications, Marketing, and Strategic Initiatives at Eastern Gateway Community College; Jaime Herald, executive administrator Carriage Inn and Carriage House; Kate Sedgmer, Carriage Inn and Carriage House Community Relations Manager; Tony Mougianis, Holy Trinity Parish Council president; Roger Isla, Carriage Health regional administrator; Laurie Labishak, Trinity Health Systems Market Director; Theo Yanni, owner of Theo Yianni Greek Restaurant in Weirton, and Nick Riley, Greek Fest co-chair. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — Anthony Mougianis figures months of planning and behind-the-scenes prepping for Holy Trinity’s annual Greek Fest is about to pay off.

The festival, Holy Trinity’s 35th, will be June 23-25 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at 300 South Fourth St. There’ll be live music and dancing all day, vendors, adult beverages and, of course, Greek foods — everything from the ever-popular gyros to lamb stew, roasted chicken and spanakopita, and a dessert menu that includes baklava, koulourakia and loukoumades, as well as snow cones and baklava sundaes.

After a year off because of COVID restrictions, Mougianis, president of the church’s parish council, said parishioners were eager to get started and began baking in January.

“A lot of festivals nowadays buy their food, but our is still homemade,” he said at a media briefing Thursday. “We feel this obligation to our ancestors to carry it on. We don’t want to disappoint — this festival brings so many people to our city, we’ll do it as long as we can.”

The festival typically attracts thousands of visitors per day, but this year, after 18 months of social distancing, he figures Ohio Valley residents are ready to enjoy themselves.

“We’re planning for 10,000 gyros,” he said. “It’s never been done here. Our last festival, in 2019, we sold 8,000 over four days. Now, even with three days, because of the pandemic … we expect record-breaking numbers.”

This year’s corporate sponsors are headlined by Eastern Gateway Community College, Theo Yianni’s Restaurant, Capital Health Care Network and Trinity Health System. All of them were represented at the briefing.

“We’re so thrilled to be here today, to partner with such a great organization and church,” said Kate Sedgmer, Carriage Inn and Carriage House community relations manager. “They believe in the same things we believe in. There’s nothing we can’t do as a community.”

Sedgmer said it’s a great way to kick off a COVID-free summer.

“We really believe in karma and what we give to the community is going to come back to us,” she added. “They do so much for the community: If churches and non-profits can do it and persevere through the pandemic, it’s our responsibility as a for-profit business to make sure we’ve giving back just as much.”

Laurie Labishak, marketing director at Trinity Health System, said they’re thrilled to be a lead sponsor this year.

“We’re a community hospital and we like to be where the community is gathering,” she said. “Events like this bring people together, we like to be where people are.”

Labishak pointed out the first line in Trinity’s mission statement is to “make the healing presence of God known.”

“What better way (to do that) than to be present, shoulder-to-shoulder, with our community?” she asked.

Amanda Wurst, EGCC’s senior vice president of communications, marketing and strategic initiatives, said the festival is “an incredible opportunity for us to partner with another institution in our community.”

“It also aligns with two of our core values — encouraging lifelong learning (and) encouraging diversity by promoting music and art and traditions and food,” she said.

Theo Yianni, owner of Theo Yianni’s Greek restaurant in Weirton, said it was an opportunity to pay it back to a community that helped his and other businesses survive the pandemic.

“It’s a great honor to support (the festival),” he said.

Each year the festival donates $1,000 to a local charity, and Mougianis said this year’s beneficiary is the Sycamore Youth Center.

“I can’t tell you what a good job they do and how many kids they’ve positively affected,” he said. “To say they’re doing (a lot) to help young people might be an understatement, they’re making an impact on the downtown.”

There’s no dining in this year, but the food line and pastries, except for loukoumathes, will be inside. Gyros and the festival’s full-service bar, featuring Mythos (Greek beer) and domestic draft beers and mixed drinks, will also be outdoors.

Filarakia & Friends will provide live Greek music daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the ever-popular Greek Company Orchestra will take over the big bandstand at 6 p.m. each day. Festival dancers will take the center stage at 7 p.m. each day, “bringing traditional Greek dances to life.”

Church tours will be available daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Vendors will also be on site, selling everything from authentic Greek clothing and jewelry to lamps, trinkets will set up outside. The Anko Art Gallery, located on the second floor of the social hall, will have a selection of beautiful hand-painted and unique fine art.

Mougianis said the three-day festival is a chance for church members to “share our Greek culture, the heritage, how we do things” with the community.

“It’s not just the food, (though) the food is superb,” he said. “It’s the music, the clothing, the different parts of our culture we want to keep alive.”

He said Holy Trinity’s parishioners are the backbone of the festival, volunteering their time and talents to pull it off. He points out the Greek community “is only about 125 families, (and) the average age is probably 70, 71, 72 now. “

“I’m not going to say we don’t get tired, it gets harder every year,” he said. “But somehow, with God’s help, we forge ahead and make it bigger and better every year.”

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