Greek Festival Volunteering is a Family Affair
Gyro, baklava and spanakopita – exotic words conjure images of foreign lands with sweet and savory delicacies. For Tulsans, a taste of Greece is just a short drive away during the Tulsa Greek Festival. Celebrating its 60th year, the festival takes place over two consecutive weekends in September, Fri.17 & Sat. 18 and Fri. 24 & Sat. 25, from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 1222 S. Guthrie Ave. Although originally planned as an in-person event, due to the rise in Covid-19, this year’s festival will reprise 2020’s The Greek Street Drive-Thru, with opportunities to safely enjoy Greek cuisine and entertainment.
“In light of rising health concerns in Oklahoma, we are combining our popular drive-thru model with the exciting entertainment of our traditional festival,” says Nick Salis, the 2021 Festival Chair. “Our priority is to maintain the health and safety of our community volunteers and our valued guests. We now welcome festival-goers to experience authentic Greek food plus entertainment from your vehicle. Enjoy dancing, cooking demonstrations and more while sipping on a Frappe as you drive-thru to pick up your order. We are excited to share this unique experience of our food and culture with the people of Tulsa as we have for the past 60 years.”
Salis joined the church 15 years ago when he moved to Tulsa from San Francisco. He’s a seasoned festival volunteer now, having worked the “Squid Shack,” where volunteers produce tasty morsels of fried squid, and assembled gyros, traditional Greek sandwiches made with pita bread and seasoned meat, for over a decade.
Jennifer Hughes, a mother of three and Holy Trinity member, is a calamari expert, too. Although she and her husband Steve aren’t of Greek heritage, they’ve found a church home at Holy Trinity, where they’ve raised their children, Emma, 18, Frankie, 16, and Abby, 6. Steve is the official “Calamari King,” having inherited that title from Constantine George “Dino” Michalopulos, who was born in Greece, eventually moving to Tulsa where he raised his own family and was instrumental in starting the Greek Festival.
Michalopulos passed away this year, but one of the innumerable ways his legacy lives on is through the Hughes family’s loving preparation of 700 pounds of fried squid.
“We’ve got it down to a pretty good science,” laughs Jennifer Hughes, whose family prepares the Greek fries, too. “We started the kids very young. Even at 2 and 3 years old, they could help us mix the flour and prepare to cook. It makes them feel important to help, and we’re here 14 hours a day, so we need to keep them entertained!”
Hughes, who homeschools her children, plans around the festival each year.
“We work it into our school year and consider it a field trip because it’s educational and cultural,” she says.
More than a once-a-year event, the Tulsa Greek Festival has grown to be an important part of the church community.
“I think it comes from the joy and gratification we all get from sharing our culture and cuisine with everyone, and working with one another,” Salis says. “I am incredibly proud of our church these last few years. In light of everything, we’ve had to pivot and come up with new and fun concepts to be around one another. Our support for one another has gotten stronger through this all.”
It’s also a meaningful event for the city.
“Tulsa is an eclectic city with a rich history. Our community has been blessed with 60 years of support from the greater Tulsa community,” Salis notes. “We have guests come up to us every year saying, ‘I look forward to your festival every year,’ and others saying, ‘I remember coming to your festival with my parents, and now I am bringing my own kids to experience the Tulsa Greek Festival.’ When we hear that feedback and you see the joy on their faces, you know that what you are doing matters.”
For more information, or to order food online, visit tulsagreekfestival.com.