New and Noteworthy

Transforming Taste: Celebrating 50 Years of Innovation

Read original at Hellenic News

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Grecian Delight | Kronos takes pride in its transformative journey. From introducing Greece’s iconic street food, the gyro, to America and expanding product lines and services, the company has been on a remarkable path of innovation and growth. This legacy, crafted by founder Peter Parthenis Sr. and carried forward by his son, President and CEO Peter Parthenis Jr., is a testament to an unwavering commitment to excellence.

“The moral of the story is the realization of a dream. I came to America to become an engineer, study, and build a company. And it is as simple as it sounds,” says Parthenis Sr. “It’s hard to imagine that 50 years have passed. They were great years. I worked a lot and learned a lot.”

The company produces over 350 products, from gyros and ready-to-eat meats to pitas, specialty flatbreads, falafel, hummus, dips, and spreads, sold in over 50,000 locations in America. It has three production facilities in Chicago and more than 800 workers. Products are shipped abroad to Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Europe.

“Our success is not just about passion and drive. It’s about leveraging the best and brightest people,” emphasizes Parthenis Jr. “We have a legacy of continuous innovation, and our Greek and Mediterranean foods are a unique category in high demand. We offer many great products and have built an amazing customer base.”

Some say the gyro dates back to Alexander the Great, the ancient king of Macedonia. Soldiers put meat on a spit, cooked it on an open fire “rotisserie style”, and then carved it into slices. Now, you can get a gyro made with beef and lamb, chicken, or even with 100% pork, as it is served in Greece. The Turkish call their product Döner kebab, in the Middle East it is known as Shawarma. And the 19th century the Lebanese introduced their version “Al Pastor” to Mexico which has influenced Hispanic cuisine with Tacos “Al Pastor”. While the authentic cooking process is similar the spice blend is proprietary and often a distinguishing factor.

“My dad, Peter Sr., was the one who introduced the most popular street food in Greece, the gyro, to America,” proudly states Peter Jr. “The first ten years of the company were really about the gyro sandwich, and it was his vision and hard work that made it a success.”

But the story is more complex than making a gyro with pita and tzatziki. As an engineer turned entrepreneur, Parthenis Sr. designed automatic car washes with plans to introduce the innovation to Greece. However, with experience in the food business, he also knew of the popularity of gyros and began producing vertical rotisseries. The rotisseries and the gyros quickly became a huge success, leading Parthenis Sr. to focus on the food business. He says, “The Rotisseries and the gyros became so successful that I forgot about the car washes.”

The gyro sandwich was not just a culinary delicacy but a business solution. When Parthenis Sr. introduced the gyro sandwich to a restaurateur, he had to teach them how to make it, which was very difficult. Parthenis Sr. had two choices: give up on the idea or go into the meat business to keep it going. He chose the latter and became a successful meat manufacturer. Parthenis Sr. remembers thinking, “The future, of course, is meat because you buy the meat twice a week and the rotisserie once every ten years.”

Greek gyros have become a staple in American cuisine. Still, they were initially met with resistance by some Greek restaurateurs who believed it was a “poor man’s sandwich from Greece” and would lower the class of their establishment. However, Parthenis Sr. persevered and conducted his marketing research by talking to servers in Greek cuisine restaurants. “Nine out of 10 customers would order gyros and love it, they told me,” says Parthenis Sr. “I always believed gyros were a winner compared to hamburgers and other sandwiches because they are tasty, filling, and juicy.”

One of Peter Sr.’s most significant breakthroughs was the mass production of gyro cones, the vertical rotisserie covered with meat. He recalls, “Previously, you needed people with strong arms to produce the cone by hand, which would take about 30 minutes. I automated the process as an engineer, reducing it to just one minute. This was a world first.”

“Like any innovation,” adds Parthenis Sr., “mass production was a process that took nearly a year to develop. It is a series of steps that you succeed and fail, and you try this, and you try that.”

Parthenis Sr. said the demand for the cones was immediate. They began shipping the cones to restaurateurs twice or three times a week. They shipped their first cones to Atlanta, Georgia, by Greyhound bus. “It was not refrigerated but solid frozen. We used bubble wrap to keep the temperature, and they stayed frozen for 24 hours,” says Parthenis Sr.

Over the years, the business has evolved and expanded beyond the gyro, diversifying offerings to include cuisines such as baklava and moussaka. Parthenis Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, working for the company right after graduation. “I graduated Sunday and started Monday on the plant floor. I spent a year and a half in each business area, making improvements to understand the process. The Board had a ten-year succession plan for me to take over as president and CEO, which I accomplished in eight years.”

Parthenis Jr. has expanded the Greek and Eastern Mediterranean food categories and focused on selling nationally to chain accounts and retail merchants.

“Peter Jr. was the one who changed the term pita bread to flatbread, and now we have hundreds of different variations. He did the same with meats and sauces,” says Parthenis Sr. proudly.

In 2020, Parthenis Jr. partnered with a private equity firm to acquire Kronos Foods.

“Customers are incredibly loyal. They trust a product’s quality and consistency and choose Grecian Delight or Kronos,” he says. “They’d rather wait than compromise if a particular product isn’t available. We are committed to being a one-stop shop, providing a wide range of offerings and convenience, and having a larger team to continue growing our business.”

With the demand for ready-to-eat foods and convenience, the company invested in technology and new packaging for gyros, making them pre-cooked, flame-broiled, sliced, and ready to serve.

Parthenis Jr. says he is very proud of his family’s work ethic but also feels he has learned a specific philosophy from his father. “We worked very long hours and went through struggles to make the dream happen, but there’s a certain point when you realize that business and money are just tools to enjoy life with and provide experiences and securities to your family, and that’s an essential part of our family values as well.”

Parthenis Jr. feels there is much more to do, focusing on acquisitions and partnerships with other companies to continue expanding the Greek and Mediterranean foods category.

When they look back at the last 50 years and into the future, father and son have similar messages.

“My advice to any entrepreneur is to think of a big market, not a local market. There is always another market. The world is huge,” says Parthenis Sr., who says his initial vision was the US market, not just Chicago.

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