■ By Constantine N. Kolitsas
DINER owners and restaurateurs that comprise the vibrant Connecticut Greek business community gathered on Sunday October 22 in the state’s western city of Danbury to present the Pan Gregorian of Connecticut’s charitable gifts at the organization’s annual dinner dance, held at the Amber Room Colonnade. The event, also attended by suppliers and companies servicing the restaurant industry, featured a key note address by celebrity chef Maria Loi, whose television shows, cookbooks and restaurants have earned her a reputation as the “Martha Steward” of Greek cuisine.
“The Greek restaurants that are popular in our large cities today owe everything to you,” she told the capacity crowd, donned in her trademark white toque accentuated with medals and awards earned over the course of her career. “It was from your diners that the American public learned about Greek cuisine,” she continued, while admonishing them to lose the lettuce in the quintessential diner version of a Greek salad, suggesting that they trade it out for the traditional “horiatiki” version that is, as she insisted, more authentic. “Of course, I don’t blame you,” she joked, “you had to make a little money and lettuce is inexpensive.”
In addition to Ms. Loi, the attendees were entertained by the Olympiad Dancers from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Bridgeport.
And while all enjoyed the festivities, the evening’s raison d’etre was to present monetary gifts to three vital organizations serving the community, along with scholarship awards to nine deserving university students. A total of $33,000 in charitable gifts was presented at the gala, with Hellenic Society Paideia and the Greek Children’s Fund each receiving $5,000.
Accepting on behalf of Paideia was the organization’s longtime president, Ilias Tomazos, who gave an update on the incredible projects that are nearing completion at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus. Home to the Macedonia Hellenic Studies Center and the Chapel of the Three Hierarchs (the only Greek Orthodox church on an American university campus), the Paideia complex at the university is in the completion phases of the newly constructed Laconian/Leounes Museum and the Alexander the Great amphitheater.
“Through the years, Pan Gregorian has given over $500,000 towards the projects of Paideia,” Tomazos told Estiator, indicating that the restaurant cooperative’s support was crucial to the success of the organization and its mission.
Accepting on behalf of the Greek Children’s Fund was the organization’s newly installed president, Nikos Nicolaides, who reiterated the organization’s mission to provide non-medical support to families from Greece seeking medical treatment in the United States. The event was attended by several representatives from The Greek Children’s Fund, including the fund’s founder and president for many years Stanley Matthews and longtime board member and former president, his son Sam Matthews.
In other awards, Pan Gregorian honored the memory of Diane Bokron of Omar Coffee with a $1,000 donation to Lea’s Foundation for Leukemia Research. Lea’s Foundation is a Connecticut-based charity established to honor the memory of Lea Michele Economos, who, in 1998, succumbed to the disease at the age of 18. Diane Bokrun, who was a valued member of Pan Gregorian’s supply partner network, passed away in February.
Finally, the bulk of the evening’s awards was divided among nine deserving young university students in the form of scholarship awards, each in the amount of $2,500. Those receiving either in person or through video clips: Panayoti Basimakopoulos (from Bridgeport and attending Boston College), Marina Christakos (from Stamford and attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Micaela Gagas (from Waterbury and attending the University of Connecticut), Nicholas Jackson (from Waterbury and attending the University of Connecticut), Anna Kaiser (from Orange and attending the University of Miami), Caliope Kaiser (from Orange and attending Gettysburg of Virginia), Zoe Olbrys (from Waterbury and attending the University of Virginia), Alexander Tzepos (from Waterbury and attending the University of Connecticut) and Dimitrios Valkanos (from Waterbury and attending Radford University). Over the years, Pan Gregorian has given over $250,000 in scholarship awards.
Chris Skarbandonis, the Connecticut Pan Gregorian’s president, expressed the organization’s longtime commitment to the community: “Whether as individual business owners, or as a collective, the membership of the Pan Gregorian is committed to good citizenship through support for our community’s institutions, such as Paideia, as well as for the good works done by organizations like the Greek Children’s Fund and Leah’s Foundation. And with our scholarship awards, we are investing in a bright future through the education of the upcoming generations of Greek Americans.”
Pan Gregorian of Connecticut was formed in 1993 and currently boasts a growing membership of 180 businesses.