Largest Ohio Greek festival supported by church members

Erika Kerr

Packs of children ran between the crowds of people yelling, “Opa!” the Greek word of cheer. Men and women stumbled around, laughing in the beer garden. Older men sat around talking, and despite the heat advisory, enjoyed coffee from the Kafeneon (the Greek coffee house). Cheering began when the St. Demetrios Junior Dance Troupe started performing in the middle of the grounds.

St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Warren celebrated its 44th annual Greek Festival, the largest Greek festival in Ohio, this past week.

“We started out with a couple food stands,” said co-chairman of the festival Thomas Raphtis. “But through innovation, productive thinking and the dedication of our parishioners, we expanded and now we have ice cream, Greek donuts and even rides.”

Raphtis said the first St. Demetrios Greek festival was in September 1969 on the grounds of the Elm Road Middle School in Warren.

“Back when the festival was still on the school grounds, we were making a couple hundred dollars,” he said. “But now we are making around six figures.”

The festival, which brings in about 10,000 people for the week, is completely run by the parishioners of St. Demetrios, and all the proceeds go directly to the church.

Raphtis said the women of the church run the food stands, make all the food and cook all the bakery items. Some of the food includes traditional Greek food such as homemade gyros, Greek (Horiatiki) salad, baklava and kalamari. However, traditional fair food, such as funnel cakes, is also available.

Along with the fair rides, the coffee house, the beer garden, the Greek bands and the large selection of Greek food, the Grecian festival is also host to a number of vendors.

“I have done many Greek festivals across the country, but this is by far the biggest one I do all year,” said Michael Petridis, owner of the traveling booth, the Tsantiri Boutique.

The Tsantiri Boutique sells Greek souvenirs, shawls, scarves and jewelry. Petridis said over 90 percent of his merchandise is from Greece.

The St. Demetrios Greek Festival is not just for Greek people. Many people come from all over to enjoy the food and the music. Some of the non-Greek guests were still in suits and uniforms, just getting off work, to stop by the festival to pick up dinner.

“We come multiple times every year for the food,” Kathy LaMarco said. “You have to get the grape leaves early because they go fast.”

LaMarco attended the festival with her two daughters, Cori and Rachel.

“We aren’t even Greek; we are Italian,” Cori LaMarco said. “Rachel and I used to be Greek dancers, and we have danced in the festival before. We always come back for the food, though.”

After the festival moved off the Elm Road school grounds, it was held on the St. Demetrios school grounds. The large festival started around 1977, said Raphtis. The St. Demetrios Greek Festival is a five-day event that takes place each year at the end of July.

Contact Summer Kent Stater reporter Erika Kerr at [email protected].