Greek Foods owner George Bitzilos has turned his cultural traditions into a Nelson-based business. He shares his journey with Sara Meij.
Why did you move to New Zealand? And how long ago?
I was born and grew up in Piraeus, the main port of Greece, a few kilometres away from the capital Athens. In 1994 I started my own business in Piraeus – a book store selling books, stationery, and photocopy services. Unfortunately owing to the economic recession in Europe and especially in my country, unemployment is very high and people needed to spend their money on necessities, not on items like books or stationery that were no longer essential items. So I made the decision to leave Greece and come to New Zealand. I accepted a job as a salesman in Auckland, where I also met my partner Laraine. I started working in New Zealand in March 2012 selling imported Greek deli products to shops, supermarkets and restaurants in the North Island.
How long have you been running your business Greek Foods?
Laraine and I visited the South Island on holiday, especially Nelson twice! We fell in love with Nelson and think it is a wonderful place. So we moved here and started our own business here in October 2014, continuing the good work that had begun in the North Island. I supply restaurants in the South Island with imported Greek extra virgin olive oil from Kalamata, Kalamata olives, vinegars, roast red peppers, capers, sun-dried tomatoes and several other quality products for food professionals. In January 2015 we opened a small retail shop in Montgomery Square expanding our range to include chilled goods such as Greek feta, taramosalata (fish roe dip), tzatziki and more. We also sell fresh daily, homemade spanakopita, Greek baklava and chtipiti (spicy feta dip)
How is the business going?
The Greeks have a great passion for food. Dealing with the food market is part of my tradition and works easily for me. I love and believe in what I do and I am glad for the great response I get from my customers. Many residents of Nelson, plus tourists visiting the city, have travelled to Greece and know and appreciate the excellent quality of Greek food. Combined with my realistic prices, we have had good progress and growth in the business.
How are you enjoying your life here in New Zealand? Do you go home to Greece often?
New Zealand is a beautiful country. We are relatively far away from many of the bad effects of modern Western civilisation. From my first days in the country, I appreciated the scenery, the good organisation and systems, the developing market and most of all the welcoming and friendly acceptance into the New Zealand society. Unfortunately I have been unable to travel to Greece since I came to New Zealand – starting a new business requires money and plenty of hours at the start! I would love to see my children again and all my relatives and friends. In 2017 we plan to make the journey, I look forward to being a ‘tour guide’ for my Kiwi partner in my country of birth. I will be very proud to share my country’s culture.
I will share some authentic Greek recipes the Greek guy has taught me…along with other recipes which use our products!
Also some recipes of my own which have been passed down in my family…
Kali Orexi and Bon Appetit