A FAMILY BUSINESS
On an old kitchen table
Nikos Kolionasios was born to a family of farmers in a small village near the lake of Ioannina. Back in the ’30s in rural Greece, families grew their own food almost literally in their backyard. Pies and pastry sweets were on the menu. The recipes were simple with the exception of baklava. When grand grand mother Maria, a mother of eight, scraped clean the kitchen table and dusted it with flour, the whole family paid attention. She was about to “open phyllo” for baklava and that meant either a big wedding or Christmas.
From the bakery to the atelier
Nikos married Xanthi and they moved to Athens in pursuit of a better life. They started a bakery and soon their bread and sweets became a success, but it was their handmade baklava that earned a reputation well beyond their neighbourhood. Nikos knew they had to produce more and better. That called for research, investment and skilled craftsmen they couldn’t find in the country’s capital. So they returned to Ioannina and established an atelier where baklava rolls were individually packed in foil and shipped to every corner of Greece.
Athena and the new markets
Athena, their daughter, was still studying Marketing and HR Management when she was called in to upgrade the packaging and help streamline the production process of this delicate, handmade sweet. Not an easy task at all, but she too fell in love with the taste and gave her best. In the ‘90s, the N.Kolionasios company was already leading the Greek baklava market with their branded or private label products. As tourism brought young people from Europe and America, the flavours of the Almond & Honey or the Gianniotikos (baklava with a layer of kadayef phyllo) became more and more popular. It was time for exports.
Introducing a royal sweet to new customers
To address an international audience meant that Athena had to break new ground. In Germany, Belgium,the Netherlands, France and some more european countries, oriental sweets were mainly introduced by people of Turkish origin who identified baklava with their traditional Pistachio variety, strong in butter and thick in texture. Too sweet and bad for the diet, that was the general perception also in USA and Canada at the turn of the century. Very few people actually knew the richness of baklava history, its complexity of ingredients and flavours, and the superb “in mouth” sensations a fine baklava can produce. The family spent almost a decade researching and trying different ingredients, syrups and baking times to create baklava flavours, elegant and savoury enough for a Pasha, an Emir or a citizen of our modern world.