Katerina Iliades ’10, owner and founder of the Greek International Food Market in West Roxbury, Mass., likes to share her store with customers. So if you ask if she sells Greek yogurt, not only will she tell you yes, they make their own, but most probably she will scoot behind the counter and grab you a small tasting cup of the tart, creamy fare topped with a dollop of jam. Ask about feta cheese, and she’ll tell you she has 10 varieties, each offering a different texture and saltiness, which Iliades will describe while handing you a slice. Want something sweet? Try the still-warm galaktoboureko, a Greek dessert of custard and phyllo.
Of Greek heritage, Iliades grew up eating most of the foods she now sells. The market carries a range of products imported from Greece and other Mediterranean countries such as Italy. One of her best sellers is olive oil, which occupies almost an entire aisle and comes in small bottles to huge metal tins. Iliades tries to convince people to do all their cooking with it. “It’s the healthiest oil,” she says.
Iliades also sells dozens of prepared foods—grape leaves, tzatziki, baklava—made daily by the store’s chef using her father’s recipes, which he developed for his nearby Greek restaurant, the Farm Grill Rotisserie. Iliades credits her father with helping to shape the idea for the market, which came from a business plan that she devised while still at Babson. “My dad noticed a trend toward the Mediterranean diet,” says Iliades. “He was saying, you know, we have really good food at the restaurant, but maybe if we offer the ingredients then people could make it at home. One thing led to the next, and we decided to do the market.”
The first couple of years were a lot of trial and error, says Iliades. “I had to figure out my customer base and what products they wanted. It was also hard because it’s not like one supplier brings everything. I have 10 main suppliers and many small family businesses that I order from,” she says. “It took hard work to build my network.”
Being a young female owner proved challenging as well. “In the beginning, people would come to the store and ask to speak to the manager, and I would say, ‘I am the manager.’ So they’d say, ‘I want to speak to the boss.’ I’d say, ‘I am the boss. It’s me.’ So it was difficult,” she says. “But if you’re confident in yourself and your abilities, then you gain people’s respect.”
Recently, Iliades launched an online version of the store, which is doing well, but interacting with customers remains her favorite task. Helping them create gift baskets and handing out samples, Iliades has become so much a part of the store that people ask where she is during the few hours that she’s away. “I have great employees, but customers want me,” she says. “It’s so pleasing to see people smile and to just introduce them to something new.”—Donna Coco