It’s the food that drives folks to the St. Demetrios Greek Festival every year, but there are many other cultural offerings for people to explore during the three-day event.
The festival has been going strong at the Greek Orthodox church in Montlake every year since its construction in 1963, and before that it was billed as a bazaar for three years at its former location in Seattle’s Cascade neighborhood, said Paul Plumis, who has helped organize the event for more than 30 years now.
“It served the entire county for Greeks, although most of the Greek immigrants at that time were in Seattle, and a lot of them at the time were bachelors who came from Greece for work,” Plumis said.
St. Demetrios moved into its newly constructed church in 1963, which offered even more space for the festival, and more still with its later building additions.
“I think what’s probably surprising is the size of the event, the variety that’s offered at the event, and there really aren’t that many Greek Americans or folks from Greece that are in Seattle,” Plumis said.
Planning for the three-day festival usually starts with a wrap-up meeting a month after the previous event, he said, followed by 3-4 general meetings. The timing of the festival is different every year, to not conflict with Husky football games. The festival added the church parking lot as event space in the mid-‘80s, and on-street parking in Montlake is restricted during football games.
“And that would just exacerbate the problem if we couldn’t have on-street parking, as well as off-street parking,” Plumis said.
This year’s festival will take place noon - 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21 and noon - 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22. St. Demetrios Church is at 2100 Boyer Ave. E. There will be shuttle buses from Seattle Prep and Montlake Elementary, as well as from the UW light rail station, on Saturday and Sunday.
Traditional Greek food offered at the festival include lamb sandwiches, gyros, calamari, souvlaki, spanakopita, soups and salads.
Homemade pastries, such as baklava, are a big draw, and volunteers have spent the past few month preparing them. They are frozen, and then cooked over the weekend of festival.
“It’s a huge volunteer effort, let alone for those three days that we ask people to help as much as possible,” Plumis said. “The older ladies have been cooking for a number of years, and they really are seasoned in what they’re doing.”
Festival-goers can sample a number of offerings by purchasing tokens to exchange for the food items. Plumis has run the token booth since 1991.
“That’s my little niche,” said Plumis, who festival-goers may see more than once if they run out of tokens. “It doesn’t matter where you go; you think you’re going to have enough variety that you think you can sample this or that, but once you’re there you realize there are so many more things to try.”
There are also three cafes during the festival, and sit-down meals are served in the dining hall noon to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Greek wine and beers will be available all weekend in the taverna, which will have televisions tuned into weekend sporting events.
There will also be a kids booth for playing traditional Greek games, church tours, arts and crafts and a bookstore.
The St. Demetrios Greek Dance Groups have been a part of the church’s cultural recreational ministry program for four decades. Youth meet every Monday night from September to May to practice and learn new dances.
“Once a year there’s a little competitive aspect of it in California down in February, but the primary focus is to keep them in tune with their culture,” Plumis said.
St. Demetrios works hard to secure as many volunteers as possible for the festival, but a portion of proceeds do end up going toward operating the event, Plumis said. Leftover funds support Boyer Clinic and the Jubilee Women’s Center, he said, as well as “big-ticket” maintenance items that arise at the old church.
A schedule of events and updates can be found at SeattleGreekFestival.com. The festival can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/StDemetriosGreekFestival.