ALWAYS A FAVORITE — Gyros are always a favorite when All Saints Greek Orthodox Church at 3528 West St., Weirton, holds its annual Greek Food Festival. This year’s offering, however, because of COVID-19 precautionary measures, brings changes to the summer staple normally held during a three-day period in July. Instead, there will be a super gyro sale from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 27 at the church’s newly built food booth behind the downtown post office facing the church. The gyros may be pre-ordered by phone at (304) 797-9884 beginning Aug. 25 through 11 a.m. on Aug. 27, online at http://www.allstswwv.org or the day of in person. The church also is planning a one-day, take-out-only Greek Grab ‘n Go Fest on Sept. 25 that will feature a variety of Greek food and sweets. This contributed photo from the 2019 festival shows volunteer Naso Chaliotis helping with the gyros.

WEIRTON — Hungry for a “super gyro?”

Loaded with gyro meat on warm pita bread with tomatoes, onions and tzaziki sauce?

OPA!!

All Saints Greek Orthodox Church at 3528 West St., hopes to help satisfy that appetite initially with what will be an Aug. 27 trial run for its revamped approach to a broader menu one-day Greek Food Fest fundraiser next month.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic precautions in place, the church’s three-day Greek food festival traditionally held in July was canceled, replaced instead with alternative plans for a one-day, take-out-only “Greek Grab ‘n Go Fest” event on Sept. 25. It will offer homemade, made-from-scratch Greek “treats and sweets” from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

But first comes the super gyro test run at the church’s newly built food booth behind the downtown post office facing the church. It’s from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 27. The gyros may be pre-ordered by phone at (304) 797-9884 beginning Aug. 25 through 11 a.m. on Aug. 27; online at http://www.allstswwv.org or the day of in person. For information, call the number listed.

“We encourage pre-order, pre-pay with a credit card at our online ordering link, which will be in operation two days prior to the gyro sale as well as from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Aug. 27,” explained Nick Tranto, president of All Saints Greek Orthodox Church and co-chair of the 33rd-annual Greek festival.

“Walk-up orders can be placed at the gyro booth outside, and we will fill those orders in our kitchen and bring it out for pick-up,” he said, noting there is no drive-through window, but the newly built food booth is easily accessible from West Street with plenty of free parking.

Gyros can be picked up outside at the food booth in the parking lot next to the loading dock of the downtown post office (rear of building). They are $7.50 each, with bottled water or pop available for $1 each.

“We are anticipating selling about 500 gyros so we strongly encourage pre-ordering to avoid being sold out as our super gyros are a Weirton favorite,” Tranto said.

“Our IT staff is working on a variety of methods to order online or by telephone, and as we add this technology to our website, we will blast it out on our Facebook page and our All Saints Greek Orthodox Church website,” Tranto explained of a procedure getting a trial run at the gyro sale.

The bigger food event, though, comes next month.

“This will be strictly a take-out, pick-up event offering three great made-from-scratch dinners of either Greek lemon oregano roasted chicken, roasted leg of lamb or our fish plaki (8-ounce cod loin) in our tomato/veggie red sauce with Greek festival green beans and rice pilaf,” Tranto noted.

“We also will offer three a la carte items which are dolmades (stuffed grapeleaves), pastichio (Greek lasagna with Bechemel creme sauce) and our famous Spanakopita (spinach and feta in filo).”

Patrons also can expect super gyros and a wide variety of Greek pastries such as baklava, Greek twist cookies “and much more,” according to Tranto, who has been involved with the festival since the 1980s as a volunteer and as chairperson now for nine years, “beginning back in 2012 when we suffered a power outage in our walk-in freezer/cooler units.

“We lost more than $30,000 of retail food products we had prepared six months earlier (flash freezed for freshness). When The Weirton Daily Times heard of our dilemma and ran the story, our entire church and the Weirton community rallied around us on July 4, 2012, and in two weeks, we re-made every single item in order to hold our festival on time,” Tranto recalled.

“That was a watershed moment for our church, and since that year, our festival has grown exponentially thanks to our many co-chairs and volunteers from our church and the community,” he continued. “It requires a tremendous effort to host the largest ethnic festival in the city, and All Saints has been blessed and thankful for support we receive from city residents and the entire Tri-State Area. Our local news media, both print, digital, radio and TV broadcasts, are vital to our advertising efforts.”

Tranto explained that the church gives back to the community through its profits, supporting a multitude of organizations that take care of others.

“All Saints kitchen ministries and its affiliates, Ladies Philoptochos Society and Order of AHEPA, have been a hub for feeding people for many years with groups such as the Weirton Christian Center, Weirton Ministerial Association, Table of Hope and the Community Bread Basket to name just a few. We share because we care about our community,” Tranto said.

The Greek Food Fest is special in many ways.

“It’s our fervent desire to keep our Greek culture and heritage alive by sharing our customs, traditions, music, dance and, of course, our delicious Greek food and pastries,” Tranto explained. “Many of us at All Saints are first generation with strong ties and memories of immigrant parents and grandparents, and we strive to preserve the legacy of their immigrant spirit and pass it along to our children and grandchildren,” he said. “It’s the ultimate sign of respect to honor those who have paved the way for us and what better way than to open our church to our hospitality and friendship — the Greeks call it ‘Philoxenia — enter a stranger but leave as a friend.’ We’re honored to have so many friends in our community.”

The traditional three-day, full-service festivals in past years indicate as many as 8,000 customers pass through the dinner lines and visit the “taverna” booths. The daily schedule has run from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. with nightly entertainment provided by the church’s Youth Aegean Dance Group, live bands and a DJ. “It’s a family atmosphere,” he said.

The decision to cancel the festival was not an easy one but was necessary.

“We had prepared 8,000 dolmades (grapeleaves), 40 pans of pastichio (Greek lasagna) and 40 trays of baklava before COVID hit the country back in early February,” Tranto noted.

“Our committee quickly realized that a July festival was not possible, so we decided in March to push the festival to September, hoping for a medical solution that would allow us to proceed with some type of Greek Food Fest. As the months passed, we realized that if we were permitted to host a food event, it would be substantially limited to take-out only with no indoor or outdoor seating. The main decision maker here was safety for our volunteers and food prep workers and the safety of our valued customers and their families,” he noted.

“After much consultation with our local Hancock County Health Department and a review of CDC and W.Va. state guidelines for food festivals and fairs, we decided to host a one-day-only event — a ‘Greek Grab ‘n Go’ take-out event on Sept. 25 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. as a pre-order, pre-pay, pick- up food fest,” Tranto explained. “We felt it was imperative that we preserve our tradition of hosting festivals in downtown Weirton for 33 years. All food prep and serving will be in strict accordance with CDC guidelines for the protection of all involved.”

In the past, the food fest constituted nearly 40 percent of the church’s operating budget for the year, according to Tranto.

“The loss of this revenue is not only dramatic, but like most churches, it impacts their ability to maintain its ministries. Despite what we anticipate as a drastic revenue loss, we are encouraged by the number of people who stop and ask us if the church is holding any type of festival,” he continued. “The Greek festival has become a very popular yearly event in the city, and we are blessed to be one of Weirton’s ambassadors of hospitality each year representing the great town that we are. However, we are realistic in that we anticipate a revenue loss of this magnitude will require painful budget cuts yet we hope to host a series of food events in the future based on the results of out Sept. 25 event.”

Tranto said the church invested more than $30,000 in building the new food booth in the church parking lot.

“With 14-foot ceilings, granite counter tops, utility sinks, ceiling fans and new electrical supply, the new food booth will serve as a convenient pick-up location on West Street,” he noted.

“Place your order and pick it up outside at our booth for easy in and out with convenient parking in our three parking lots on either side of the church and across the street.”

All Saints celebrated its 103rd anniversary in Weirton in May.

“We are honored and humbled by the patronage of our residents and tri-state community in support of our culture and heritage in the Northern Panhandle.”

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

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