It was almost 40 years ago when Peter Parthenis Sr. started up a new Mediterranean food company in Greektown, Chicago. And as fate had it, the Greek immigrant’s company, Grecian Delight Foods Inc, would shape the American food scene.
Launching Grecian Delight and Mediterranean Food in USA
From the inception of the Gyros machine and making the Greek delicacy known to the vast American food market, to the introduction of countless Mediterranean offerings by Grecian Delight, Parthenis Sr. helped drive the burgeoning consumer demand for Mediterranean Foods in the United States.
It was not easy at the beginning. When Parthenis Sr started the company he did it all; he was the guy making the product, the sales calls, the deliveries. Today his creation, headed by his son, Peter Parthenis Jr., – has grown enormously and Grecian Delight is once again changing the food game in America.
The Largest Mediterranean Food Products Menu in the US
The 44-year-old entrepreneur has expanded the business into more than 185 Greek, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern product moving towards a healthier, and even plant-based, variety of offerings.
The company has two production facilities, with more than 350 employees with products shipping around the U.S. Canada, Saudi Arabia, England and down to the Caribbean.
Grecian Delight have gained a reputation for being deeply passionate about serving the food industry and providing authentic dining experiences to consumers.
Customers served by the group include retail, grocery store, and club stores. Their products reach the marketplace through national distributors like SYSCO and US Foods as well as independent and ethnic-based food distributors.
Products go to fast food and quick-serve restaurants, independent family diners, colleges and universities, and airports too, as well as regional and national chains, even to some of New York City’s most popular food trucks.
A New Food Giant: Grecian Delight Kronos
In 2020, Parthenis Jr. partnered with a private equity firm to acquire and merge with Kronos Foods, which created a new food giant in the US: Grecian Delight/Kronos.
“The goal is to preserve both brands, because they both have very strong recognition and great histories, but the focus moving forward is product-focused,” Parthenis Jr. tells Greek Reporter.
The merger means that customers have a greater choice of products. “We are selling items that maybe Grecian Delight didn’t have and Kronos does, so that gives us an opportunity to sell more items and service our customers better,” he explains.
“Our goal is to focus on our customers’ needs and deliver the products that meet their needs. The brands basically stand for excellence and expertise in Greek and Mediterranean foods,” he adds.
Parthenis stresses that the customer is the one who decides. “We will not tell the customer here’s the Grecian Delight brand, here’s the Kronos brand and this is the difference; we’re shifting the conversation to say: we hear what you need, and here’s our product range.”
How Grecian Delight is Changing the Food Game Again
Grecian Delight/Kronos products focus on proteins, bakery, hummus dips and spreads, and plant-based proteins. Proteins include gyros, shawarma, al pastor, sliced beef and kebabs. Among the globally inspired breads are pita folds, wraps, flatbreads, pita pockets and pita chips. Sauces and dips include tzatziki, hummus and Greek yogurt.
According to Parthenis Jr., food trend analysis on products, specifically gyros and other Greek and Mediterranean products, shows that there are still in the growth stage in the US food market. Meaning that there is ample room for increased demand for consumers hungry these protein-based products.
He explains that there are four sections of the cycle of consumer demand: “There’s the beginning, which is inception, when it begins really ethnic and small, then there’s adoption, when people start to pick up and start buying it, then there’s proliferation, when its becoming mainstream, and then the last stage is ubiquity, which is when you can find it anywhere,” Parthenis Jr. says.
“Greek food, and specifically gyros, is in the stage right before ubiquity. It’s in mainstream, we still see a strong demand and we have a projection of growth for the next ten years.”
“You look in the fridge and you can find milk, cheese, eggs, that are products in ubiquity, you can find them anywhere.” Parthenis’ Jr. long-term goal is to bring his products at everybody’s home.
Already, the company’s products can now be found in virtually every channel that food is sold. In chain restaurants, club stores, colleges, hospitals and increasingly on the grocery store shelf.
“I’ve always been a driven individual, and I’m always one that’s focused on growth, not just for our company but also as an individual,” Parthenis Jr. tells Greek Reporter.
“I enjoy taking on larger and more complex tasks. The bigger goals you set, the bigger outcomes you achieve,” he adds.
Investing millions in Plant Based and Beyond Meat
One of the great innovations of Grecian Delight/Kronos has been the launch of the plant-based proteins, products described as “Impossible Meats” and “Beyond Meats.”
“We quickly invested several million dollars to come up with our own version of that, and we’ve successfully sold national chains this product,” Parthenis Jr. notes.
He is a great believer in innovation and invests heavily in research and development to expand the range of products.
“Our goal, again, is a product-focused approach, not a brand focused one — so we didn’t come out with “Grecian Delight” -branded, plant-based proteins. We partnered with customers and said ‘let us make you something like Beyond Meat, like Impossible Meat, but we’ll make it your brand.’
“Plant-based protein products are marketed under the label of our customer, and not with the label of Grecian Delight or Kronos. As we grow, we focus on our customers’ needs, and give them the product that they’re looking for,” Parthenis Jr. notes.
The popularity of plant-based protein products has exploded over the last few years, as anybody can find them on most menus at restaurants, hotels and most grocery stores.
“The response has been great. There’s a strong demand for healthier and meatless offerings,” he says.
He notes that the trend “started out with dairy, almond ‘milk’ and all different types of ‘milk’ that aren’t from a cow; it started off as a milk space, and the cheeses, and now it’s moved into the protein side.”
“In adversity, there’s opportunity” – Peter Parthenis jr.
Grecian Delight/Kronos has been growing despite the onslaught caused by the pandemic. “We were able to weather this storm and come out OK,” Parthenis Jr. says.
“I’ve gone, unfortunately, through three crises in the last ten years, and what it taught me is that, first, there’s a quote that I love: ‘In adversity, there’s opportunity.'”
He stresses that when a business is operating during a period of crisis there is a need to make sure to get the facts accurate, and to be quick and nimble with decisions.
“You don’t have time to do extreme analysis, you’ve got to trust your gut to have good judgement, and good instinct,” Parthenis Jr. adds.
Consumer behavior has changed during the pandemic. There has been a shift from restaurants to retail grocery stores, and a shift to online purchasing as well.
“My best guess is that maybe 15% of the changed behavior during the pandemic will stick post-pandemic,” he estimates.
At the age of 44, Parthenis Jr. is now running both Grecian Delight and Kronos. But as he points out, he never lets age get in the way.
“I’m a learner that focuses on always growing and bettering myself and our business, and I surround myself with really, really intelligent people. I don’t let challenges get in the way of my goals.”
Expanding into Europe and Greece
Speaking to Greek Reporter, Parthenis Jr. says that the company will be looking to expand beyond the US — into Greece and Europe.
“I am open into looking at acquisitions in Greece, and there’s been early discussions of possibly opening a facility in Europe. This has been top of mind for many years, to enter that space,” he says.
“We’d be a lot more cost-competitive if we produced food in Europe and sold it throughout Europe and the Middle East versus shipping from the US. So, that’s been on our radar, but no short term plans; but it’s a possibility,” Parthenis Jr. adds.
After all, his connections to Greece are strong. His mom was born outside of Kalamata, and his dad was born in Lefkada. “I come to Greece two times a year, every year. I was baptized in Greece, the same church where my dad was baptized. My older sister was baptized with me in the same church,” he tells Greek Reporter.
“We’re big believers in not just Greek food, but also our culture and where we came from, our heritage. So, seeing the cuisine grow is a way for us to share joy in our culture and our ethnicity.”
Supporting the Greek Community and Beyond
Grecian Delight as a company, as well as the father and son duo have been actively involved in numerous philanthropic, civic, and religious organizations.
Peter Parthenis Sr. is co-founder and a major contributor to the Foundation of Hellenic Studies, which has endowed a chair of Greek Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is Executive Vice President of the National Hellenic Museum, as well as a member of its Board of Trustees.
Parthenis Jr, has joined hunger relief efforts that became especially crucial as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Chicago area. In April 2020, Grecian Delight donated 25,000 pounds of food to The Salvation Army, Operation Blessing International and the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry.
You can learn more about Grecian Delight|Kronos at their official website.