Artopolis Bakery: A Slice of Greece in Astoria
by Chris Salboudis
For the past 14 years Regina Katopodis and her team at Artopolis Bakery have been a staple for members the Greek community throughout the tri-state area and beyond. Conceived along the shores of Greece and built from scratch in the niche of the little agora along 31st Street in Astoria, NY, this sweet haven prides itself on the authenticity of its products. As Regina says, “Authentic and genuine is our brand.”
As stated on their new webpage, artopolis.us., “The basic ingredient for this extraordinary venture is the passion for quality and excellence of the Artopolis group, proud natives of Kefalonia and Ithaca, who spent a lifetime perfecting recipes from every corner of Greece to bring authentic and traditional baked goods to those who seek the very best.”
I walked into Artopolis in mid-September to set up the interview and smiled at the familiar sight of three members of the Artopolis team making traditional koufeta with custom-printed bows, taking me back to my childhood, where we sat together in similar fashion around a wooden table to prepare koufeta and boubounieres for weddings and christenings. The lovely shop specializes in creating the perfect classical Greek touches for all occasions.
When asked about special holiday plans at the bakery, Regina says that there are no new plans for the holiday. “People ask every year, ‘Do you have something new?’ and I’m proud to say NO because the whole point here is to stick to the original, authentic Greek pastries, to make them the way they are traditionally supposed to look and taste. For the holidays we don’t have NEW activities but we do start making the melomakarona, kourabiedes, and vasilopita as always, daily through the first of the year. We just keep going and going and going!” Sure enough, since Artopolis opened its doors in 2003 it has been packed with customers of all ages. Whether you’re picking up a massive order of Greek tiropita made fresh daily from their Furno, ordering sweets for their Patisserie, or just enjoying a nice kafedaki and cookie with a friend or family member, Artopolis is committed to offering the best quality AND to making sure you leave with a smile. “No one leaves without a smile!” Regina says.
More than a bakery, Artopolis has always been intended to be a part of the community, a reflection of the warm and hospitable community that is the heart of Greece and Greek culture. “I’m very happy that we’re part of the neighborhood. That was always the mission for us. We’ve built relationships over the years. We’ve done wedding cakes for young couples and are now baking for their kids’ baptisms and birthdays, which is amazing and really means something to us. Being hospitable and being part of a community like this… it’s all part of the Greek package here. It’s like when someone comes in for the first time I always offer them a pastry because that’s the Greek way.”
At almost any philanthropic Greek event throughout the year, especially in NYC, people are enjoying sweets from Artopolis. “I’m very pleased to say that Artopolis has evolved over 13 years into a part of the community. It’s not all about the money. It’s more about preserving the Greek community and helping to meet its needs.” Regina runs Artopolis Bakery in Astoria as well as the new PI Bakery in Manhattan. As a Greek business owner she is committed to working with churches and nonprofit organizations that support Greek culture and community here in the Big Apple. “We are very involved with the Church. People appreciate what we do. We give for the church or a prize for their lottery to raise money. We also contribute to the arts, because that is also a big part of the Greek community. The local Greek Cultural Center, the theater, the dance groups. We’re here to support everything.” Among the nonprofit organizations Regina has helped to support are: The Queens Center for Progress, The Brooke Jackman Foundation, The Ronald McDonald House Greek Division, Philo4Thought Hellenic Mentoring Initiative, American Hellenic Institute, and more. “It’s nice to be a part of the community in this way, to be a part of something bigger.” Regina explains. “We try to accommodate everyone’s needs in some way.”
Regina shared a bit more about the annual events she and her team support: “The Queens Center for Progress hosts an annual event at Terrace on the Park. Tickets are $100 per person and all the best restaurants in Queens are selected to participate and they always choose a Chef of the Year, which is nice. We’re honored to be part of that group. The proceeds go to children with special needs, which I feel strongly about supporting.
“The Brooke Jackman Foundation is another great cause dedicated to supporting childhood literacy. Brooke herself was a school teacher who perished at the age of twenty-four in the 9/11 tragedy. Knowing her life’s mission that no child in NYC should be illiterate, her family started the foundation to raise money and identify resources to support child literacy. We offered the sweets at the last fundraising event in the Mandarin Oriental. They raise millions of dollars in those few hours, which is really amazing.
“We also help out The Ronald McDonald House Greek Division also because Niki Sederis – the founder – was someone I admired very much. She had an amazing spirit and determination and will always be here in my memory. She will always inspire us. It’s in her memory that we gladly donate a bus to help get people to their annual Walkathon.”
At the seasonal lectures hosted by the American Hellenic Institute at the swanky 3 West Club, everyone enjoys relaxed networking over coffee and aromatic sweets from Artopolis. Likewise, at annual conferences and seminars hosted by Philo4Thought, young professionals enjoy the delightful taste of Greece that Artopolis offers while revamping resumes and building connections. Artopolis also provides the sweets and cakes for the annual Vasilopita cutting event hosted at Holy Trinity Cathedral every January – in collaboration with major Hellenic organizations including Hellenic Medical Society of New York, Hellenic Professional Women, Hellenic American Business Association, Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, Hellenic Lawyers Association, etc.
Regina and her husband were living in Greece after being in the pastry industry in New York City for years. The concept of creating a cozy niche pastry shop in the heart of the Greek community in New York came up when the owners of the square on 31st Avenue invited Regina and her husband to build a pastry shop in the corner block of the construct. “The idea was to have an authentic agora, and the concept as the owners of the space visualized it not complete without a pastry shop.” According to Regina, the vision of Artopolis took 3 years to put together. “This space was brand new and vacant. We took three classic concepts – the furno, the patisserie, and the kafeteria – and combined them to it was closer to the feel of the kiosks in Greece that sell everything. There was nothing like it here. It was a real evolution. The architect is someone who makes very high-end Patisseries throughout Europe. He designed every part of this space with just the bare specs, importing every piece from Greece. The installations were perfect, and see the marble on this floor? You are literally stepping on marble from Greece, a piece of home.” Sure enough, many people comment on the homey feel of Artopolis, the familiar scents, the classic display, and the warmth of the hospitable team. The seats and tables are classic imports from Ermou Street in Athens.
“When we first started, all our baked goods were originally shipped from Greece, but the demand was so high that we couldn’t keep up with those shipments, so we made a new effort to bake everything fresh and in-house, which is what we have been doing for years now. To do this, we have to make sure that all the products are in their most authentic forms and made from real Greek ingredients. Now this place has become a real embassy for the Greek housewife, and a place that people come to when they want traditional baked goods as they originally were meant to taste and look. Everything we serve here – every recipe – is straight out of somebody’s home and made by hand with imported ingredients to ensure that each thing we make is a genuine and authentic representation of our heritage. Each pastry is from a traditional recipe in different parts of Greece.”
Regina explains that she maintains a younger staff that is more trainable and will follow the recipes she’s taken so much time and effort to obtain and perfect. “When we look for kitchen staff, we’re not looking so much for the pastry professional, but for chefs who know how to make our products look and taste the ways we wanted – the perfect color and texture for the filo, the perfect vasilopita, as it should be. It wasn’t an easy process to find the right team… a lot of people came and left till we got it right. Our Chef Ali, for example, was taken straight out of the Plaza Hotel. My husband Angelos spoke with Ali, who started working here part time until finally we gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and now here we are.” Regina smiles as she remembers the story of what she often refers to as an odyssey. “I think we got it right now! And we continue that way.”
The community certainly agrees! In 2011 Artopolis was featured by Sylvie Bigar in the New York Times. In 2012 Artopolis was honored with ZAGAT’s Excellence & Extraordinary Award. In 2014 the Artopolis Group was featured in Time Out magazine for their new expansion project, PI Bakery in SOHO was also honored as Best Bakery by the Small Business Association of America. On the several instances that I’ve stopped in, visitors from Seattle to New Haven have stopped in and left with smiles on their faces – and at least one box of goodies for the road!
To learn more about the team, stop by the Agora Plaza and experience what everyone’s talking about! Artopolis Bakery, 23-18 31st Street in Astoria, New York.