Community celebrates return of Greek Food Festival to East Sac

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Sacramento’s annual Greek Food Festival returned to East Sacramento on Oct. 6-8, as the event was held at the church’s Alhambra Boulevard and F Street grounds for the first time in 37 years.
That return was made possible through the construction of the church’s new 40,000-square-foot community center.
After leaving the church’s grounds, this 54-year-old event was presented at Cal Expo for three years, before spending the last 33 years at the Sacramento Convention Center at 14th and J streets.
Terry Kastanis, a longtime member of the church, commented about what it meant to relocate the festival to the Alhambra Boulevard site.
“Well, it’s like coming back home, because not only do we have the secular aspects of the festival, but we have the religion at the church, as well,” he said. “And one thing about being a Greek and an orthodox, you’re kind of both. So, it’s kind of nice to bring the culture and the religion together and to bring that back home to our new facility. And it’s an opportunity for us to show the community what a lovely facility we have now.”
Kastanis added that he believes the event will become a “mainstay in East Sacramento.”
As for the new building, Kastanis said that it is a very inviting and convenient place for the festival.
“We have a lovely new kitchen with every modern boiling pot you can think of, and ovens,” he said. “It’s a huge, commercial kitchen, so we (are) able to do a lot better job of cooking our food in that kitchen. And in the hall is where the food (is) served.
“We (are) able to have plenty of room for all the different kinds of food, the sweets, as well as the lamb dinners, and all the roasted chicken and all those wonderful Greek dishes. So, all of that (is) in the hall and then we eat outdoors, outside in the platia.”
Four generations of volunteers – about 400 people total – worked to present the event, which also included live music, traditional Greek dancing, vendors’ booths, cooking demonstrations, an eating contest, a Kids’ Zone activity area, and appearances by local artist Gregory Kondos. And new this year were bike parking and a free shuttle service.
Peloponnese, Greece native Nick Kontos, another member of the church, said that the success of this year’s edition of the festival exceeded expectations.
“Being in a new location and on a new date, we did not know how things were going to go,” he said. “The only yardstick we had was what was happening downtown. We made some assumptions and what happened in reality is it exceeded those assumptions.
“The folks enjoyed (the festival) and they enjoyed the food and they had a good time. The community around here supported the festival and we are very appreciative about that.”

Photo by Lance Armstrong

Healon Knight, who was among the many non-Greek church member guests at the event, commented about what she likes about the festival.
“What I like most about the festival is the atmosphere and the music, the food and just people coming together,” she said. “It’s just a lovely, festive vibe and something to do in Sacramento. And I’m glad that they got their new facility and are back to their old place.”
Tahoe Park resident Trina Whitney said that she is attracted to both the festival’s energy and food.
“The primary reason I come here is joy,” she said. “I just like the energy, and of course I love the food. It’s just amazing, and it’s fun. People are friendly. It’s great.
“I really like the tiropita. It’s a (triangle-shape) pastry that’s stuck to (feta) cheese. What’s not to like? I also like the shrimp, fish, the Mediterranean salads.”
Mary Frances (Munjak) Keenan said that she and her husband, Lloyd, have a long history of attending the festival.
“We have been coming (to the festival) for years, so we have seen the original festival right here on the church grounds,” she said. “Every day is good in Greece and it’s also good in Croatia. I’m an American, but of 100 percent Croatian descent. We’re the neighbor to the north. We cook similarly, but we patronize each other, because we’re good people.”
Thirty-two-year-old Peter Fotopoulos, who served as the event’s chairperson for the bar, said that he was pleased to participate in the festival in East Sacramento.
“This is the first time in my lifetime that I can remember the festival being on our church grounds,” he said. “So, we’re very excited and it gives us an opportunity to showcase our culture and our traditions and our amazing food, dancing and music with the East Sac community that we’re apart of every day and every week.
“This is where we come for church and Greek dance and Greek school, and all of our community events are right here on our campus.”
Tina Harris, who is also a member of the local Greek church, provided her own summary of this year’s festival.
“The community has embraced it,” she said. “I think we had a successful festival and it was so much fun for all our parishioners and all our guests. People were very happy they could walk here, ride their bikes, bring their families. A lot of (people) commented about the vibe, the energy and just the culture that it brought to the community. We’re very pleased with the turnout. (The event) was everything I had imagined it would be, but more.”

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