Gyros, pastitsio, souvlaki, baklava and a hearty helping of tzatziki sauce — these are the things that spring to mind as the International Greek Food Festival approaches. But for those like the Vratsinas family who have helped put on the fest since its inception, and which now has three generations of helping hands, it means a bit more than a well-cooked kebab.
Now in its 34th year, the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, and by extension the International Greek Food Festival, houses a congregation that pulls from an array of backgrounds like Armenian, Middle Eastern, Georgian, Indian, Romanian, English and, of course, Greek.
As the congregation prepares to open its doors, its grounds and its kitchen for yet another springtime weekend, Soirée caught up with festival chairs Sara and Edmond Hurst to talk about why family ties are still the secret ingredient in this citywide favorite event.
Why do you think this festival is so special to so many?
Sara Hurst: The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church has been putting on the International Greek Food Festival for 34 years now. Our members are involved in every aspect of the event — from baking our famous baklava to offering guided church tours. We’re also fortunate to have the support of hundreds of volunteers, many of whom have participated year after year.
Edmond Hurst: The festival brings together individuals and families from across central Arkansas to enjoy delicious food, unique entertainment and the outdoors, all while giving back to local charities. Over the years, our city has added more diverse, multicultural food offerings, but nothing can beat our church’s recipes.
What is it like to share a family tradition with an entire city?
EH: The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church is proud to be a “melting pot” of cultures from around the globe, and our festival is no different. We love seeing diverse members of the community join together in their shared love of food and fellowship.
Do you have a favorite memory attached to the festival?
EH: Sara and I enjoy cooking at home for friends and family, but it’s a different ballgame to prepare food for thousands! It’s been fun to see and learn firsthand the different family recipes, traditions and techniques from members who have cooked these dishes for decades.
SH: Like Edmond said, we’ve learned so much from working with our church family and helping with their recipes. There’s no way I can pinpoint a favorite memory because every year I truly enjoy working with the whole parish and sharing our church’s rich history with the community.
What are you most looking forward to at this year's event?
SH: The preparation that goes into the festival is really incredible. Our church is lucky to have members who are willing to sacrifice so much of their time to provide this special cultural offering. We’ve spent months organizing, planning and cooking, so it’ll be exciting to see everything come to fruition the weekend of May 18-20.
EH: To date, the festival has raised $1.5 million for local causes. With the support of our church members, volunteers and supporters, we’re looking forward to raising a record amount for this year’s participating charities: Arkansas Foodbank, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, Community Connections, Easterseals Arkansas, Humane Society of Pulaski County, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas, Wolfe Street Foundation and Youth Home.
34th Annual International Greek Food Festival
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
1100 Napa Valley Dr, Little Rock