Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A little about Greektown and the first Gyros in America served in Chicago.

The first Greeks to inhabit Chicago came by ship in the 1840’s. They worked hard to establish themselves upon landing in Chicago and eventually many of them became restaurant owners. This fledgling community was originally concentrated around Harrison, Blue Island and Halsted. Since the majority of this population was Greek, the area quickly became known as Greektown. 

In the 1960’s Chicago saw development on the West Side; the Eisenhower Expressway was built, as well as the University of Illinois at Chicago. Thus the Greek community was forced to relocate a few blocks away. They settled in what is now known as modern Greektown. Although the Greek community was established by this time, it wasn’t until the first gyros in America [1] were made in Greektown around 1965 that the Greeks began to have notoriety in Chicago. The instant gyros were introduced, they became wildly popular.

Using this success as a starting point, Chicago’s Greek community began to celebrate its heritage more boldly. Over the next two decades, the number of restaurants and small businesses grew dramatically and Greektown became the most popular destination for Greek cuisine.
The Taste of Greece and several parades were instituted as annual celebrations during this time as well. In 1996 the City of Chicago funded street renovations and the building of traditional Greek pavilions at various points in the neighborhood.
The Greek Islands, one of Chicagoland's favorite authentic Greek Restaurants. 

[1] Several people lay claim to have been the first in America to mass produce Gyros cones.
               
George Apostolou, who says he served the first gyros in the United States, in the Parkview Restaurant in Chicago, in 1965, and nine years later opened a 3,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, Central Gyros Wholesale.

Peter Parthenis says he beat Mr. Apostolou to mass production by a year, with Gyros Inc., in 1973.

Andre Papantoniou, a founder and the president of Olympia Food Industries, says the gyro plant was actually the brainchild of John Garlic. Mr. Papantoniou swears that during the rotisserie-making phase of Mr. Parthenis’s career, a John Garlic showed up in Chicago in search of a partner in a gyro plant he’d started in Milwaukee. Mrs. Garlic tells the story; “John got the idea for Gyros from me,” Ms. Garlic said. “One afternoon, I was watching ‘What’s My Line?’ and there was a Greek restaurant owner on the show, and he did this demonstration, carving meat off a gyro. I immediately called an operator and asked for the number of a Greek restaurant in New York. The owner I got on the phone said, ‘Go to Chicago, there’s a huge Greek community.’ ” At the time, Mr. Garlic was a Cadillac salesman, in his late 30s, but he quickly saw his future in gyro cones. After finding a Chicago chef willing to share a recipe, the couple rented space in a sausage plant and cranked out history’s first assembly-line gyro cones. They were a hit. “We supplied summer festivals, universities, some restaurants,” Ms. Garlic said. “John could sell anything.”

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