Effie Fourakis learned baking in her Greek family and is passing the skills and recipes to the next generation. Stories of her grandfather growing up in a poor family in Greece making dough from flour and water, frying it, and topping it with cheese are part of the family’s history.
When Effie and her husband Vasilis got married, they moved into her childhood home, making it into a duplex, so that Effie’s mother could live next door. Everyone called her Yiayiá, the word for grandmother in Greek. “She loved to bake Greek cookies and fried dough for our kids.”
But Effie wanted to be a doctor. After receiving a degree in biochemistry at UC Berkeley, she worked in a research lab at UCSF at the VA Hospital, while she applied to medical schools. She was accepted by a medical school in Virginia, but her heart and her family were in California, so there was a change of plans and she got her Masters Degree in public health at UC Berkeley.
Effie points out, “The interesting thing is that so many of the concepts I learned working in research labs are directly relevant to baking.”
The Fourakis family had two sons, and then their life changed dramatically. Their baby daughter Elektra was born with a congenital heart defect, and Effie’s focus became taking care of Elektra as she underwent a series of surgeries.
The thing that brought the family joy during these difficult times was performing and teaching Greek folk dancing. “It’s actually how Vasilis and I met. During high school and college, I danced in a Greek troupe at my church, Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox Church in Novato. Vasilis has a lot of family in California, and he had come here from Greece to study. His cousin talked him into joining the group, and the instructor paired us together. We are still together and still dancing!”
“An Easter tradition in the Greek community is to give away little trays of your homemade Easter cookies. Everyone has to try everyone else’s,” Effie laughs. Effie’s cookies always drew high praise, and her husband encouraged her to develop them into a business.
“I love a challenge. So I bought a book, ‘Start a Cookie Business Today,’ and began researching and studying. The Small Business Administration’s website was very helpful. I really enjoy learning new things, and this was all about a subject dear to me, baking Greek pastries.”
Each member of the family has contributed. Vasilis owns California Space Organizers, so he came up with ways to organize her bakery to make production easier. The oldest son, Achilleas, just got his BA, and is the sales and marketing director for Glyká Sweets. Second son, Odysseas, is interested in mechanical engineering and has developed a machine for his mother’s bakery to make cutting cookies easier.
Elektra is becoming a baking entrepreneur in her own right. One of the family dogs is a hearing dog for her, and that inspired her to develop a line of all-natural dog biscuits called “Elektra’s Dog Treats.”
The Fourakis family is bringing some of the pleasures of Greek tradition and lifestyle to California, introducing Americans to the pleasures of Greek breads and pastries.