The 2024 Richmond Greek Festival Guide

The 2024 Richmond Greek Festival Guide

The Greek Festival is one of the biggest events Richmond offers leading into the summer months. It is especially busy for members of the St. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, as the festival is a huge fundraiser for the church, and requires a lot of volunteer time from the parishioners. After a three year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions, the festival returned in full swing last year, and did not disappoint. Amid record crowds and great weather (usually there is at least a day/night of rain, but 2023 was all sunshine), the festival was a huge success. Preparations began months ago, as they typically do, in order to prepare food, logistics, entertainment, and more for a long and exciting 4 day festival experience. In this week's blog, I am going to write about the history of the festival and give a comprehensive guide of what the festival has to offer this year (including dates, times, and other necessary information).

History

The Richmond Grecian Festival (the original name) began forty-eight years ago, in the year 1976. The event was created to raise the visibility of the Church, the Orthodox faith, and introduce Richmond to the Greek food and culture. As I have discussed in previous blogs, the Greek food brings people together, but the atmosphere and the parea (loosely translated in English to friendship) is what makes people come back. The first year of the festival was a bake sale, with proceeds donated to the Richmond Children's Hospital. Immediately, the festival was a hit with the Richmond public, which led to immediate expansion. In 1977, the late Theodore Deeb became the first ever Chairman of the Festival committee, with ambitions to grow. With the help of the church community, the festival expanded from an indoor event with a few booths for pastries to one of the biggest attractions in Richmond. Parishioners Dean Kovanes and the late Eddie Deeb were amongst the first group of volunteers to transition the festival outside, they were given a truck to pick up donated tents and chairs from Bliley's funeral home that they set up around the church grounds. The festival blossomed into a 4-day affair, complete with dance troupes, Cathedral tours and lectures about the Orthodox faith, Greek film documentaries, a Greek village shopping area, live entertainment, and of course...MORE FOOD! The festival continued to rapidly grow to a point where the large crowds began to cause overcrowding. In 1995, parishioner Tony Juranis suggested the introduction of a drive-thru, which enabled those pressed for time, or those unable to move through the crowds to still have the opportunity to enjoy the food. Mr. Juranis' son, Manny, continues to operate the drive-thru each year. With the growth came more need for manpower, not only during the festival, but during the set-up and clean-up. One man who deserves to be highlighted, although he does not enjoy the spotlight himself, is Mr. George Vithoulkas. Mr. Vithoulkas has done just about everything since retiring in the early 2000s. He was responsible for coordinating the tent set-up, the electrical wiring, the gas lining, the building of the booths, and just about everything else you could think of. Many of these responsibilities were previously held by the late Mr. GT Georges, who was one of the first parishioners involved with the technical aspect of moving the festival outside. Over the years, there have been so many people who have been invaluable to the efforts of the festival. The support of the parish, as well as the entire population of Richmond, are what make the festival a success, year in and year out. 

The 2024 Festival Guide

Now, it is time to turn our attention to this year's festival, the 46th Richmond Greek Festival. I have been in attendance for as long as I can remember, and have seen the behind the scenes of the festival for years. I hope that this guide can provide you with some helpful information, and maybe a few tips to ensure you get to experience everything that our Festival has to offer.

The Food and Drink

Where else to start but with food? The food is what brings 99% of visitors for the festival. The growth of the festival has allowed the church to offer a variety of food options.

The biggest booth at the festival is the a la carte line...this is for good reason, because you can get a taste of just about everything. Going off of my memory (it changes from year to year), this is what is offered in the a la carte line: Chicken Souvlakia skewer, Pork Souvlakia skewer, Locanico (Greek sausage), Moussaka, Pastichio, Spanakopita, Tyropita, Green Beans, Rice Pilaf, Greek Salad, Dolmades, Assorted Pastry mixes, and Galaktoboureko (Greek custard-style dessert). In terms of food recommendations, you really can't go wrong. I think the church does a great job on just about everything, but the Moussaka and Pastichio stand out to me. Even though this food is mass produced (it has to be, as tens of thousands of people attend the festival each year), these dishes do not vary much from homemade pans I have had. This is a credit to the men and women who volunteer their time weeks in advance to prepare these dishes, as well as the cooks in the kitchen during the festival who bake them. 

The next longest line you are likely to encounter is the Gyro Booth. I grew up working in the gyro booth, and always have had a love for both gyro and souvlakia, as they are two of my favorite dishes in the Greek cuisine. The gyro booth offers: Lamb Gyro, Pork Souvlakia, Chicken Souvlakia, and Greek Fries. The difference between the gyro booth's souvlakia and the a la carte line is that the gyro booth assembles a wrap, complete with tzatziki sauce and wrapped in a warm pita bread. The Lamb Gyro is assembled traditionally, with fresh lettuce, tomato, and onions, also wrapped inside of a piece of pita bread. The fries are seasoned with oregano and more traditional Greek spices. 

For those who have a sweet tooth, don't worry, we've got you covered. The pastry booth offers: Baklava, Ergolavi, Koulourakia, Kataifi, Finikia, and Kourambiethes. The desserts come in packs, with an assortment also available. Note: this list may not be complete, Scott Stolte and the Pastry team constantly add more desserts to their menu! The Greek Festival also offers the Loukoumades booth, my favorite dessert...probably ever! Loukoumades are fried balls of dough, soaked in a cinnamon and honey mixture. They are offered in small and large quantities, I would recommend that you get the large and share with friends!

As mentioned earlier, the drive-thru provides a unique opportunity to get a taste of the festival without even leaving your car. At the drive thru, we offer premade meals, typically they come with rice, beans, a chicken or pork skewer, and a spanakopita and tyropita. Sides include assorted pastries, gyros, Greek salad, baklava, and galaktoboureko. Please check their online menu here for the complete list, as I am going completely off of my memory (which is definitely scattered, the festival is a hectic weekend!). The entrance to the drive thru is on Cary Street, if coming from Malvern Ave., you need to take a right turn at the light. There are plenty of signs and police officers to help guide you in the right direction.  

On a hot, sunny weekend, what better compliment to a full Greek meal than some ice cold refreshments. The drink tent offers fresh lemonade, iced tea, and water. The Wine and Beer tent offers Greek Mythos Beer, as well as both white and red wine

The Entertainment

 One of the main attractions at the Greek festival are the Greek dancers. With three different youth age groups, as well as an adult troupe, you are sure to catch a show. The dancers are performing almost always, with a few fifteen minute gaps throughout the weekend. For a lot of the weekend, the dancers are accompanied by a live Greek band, led by Achileas, who has been performing with his band for many years at the festival here in Richmond.  

Inside of the church gym is the home of the Agora Marketplace. The marketplace is filled with vendors from all over Richmond and beyond, who gather in a flea-market style setup similar to what you would find in the streets of Athens. Some vendors include Stella's Our Life, olive oil specialists, painters selling Greek artwork, and much, much more! 

The Church opens the doors of their Cathedral for the public to see during Church walk-through tours throughout the weekend. This is something I highly recommend everyone do. Just a few months ago, the church completed their iconography project inside of the Cathedral, and it looks beautiful. Join a tour to take in the breathtaking iconography (created in Greece and installed here in Richmond) and learn about the Orthodox faith. 

Charitable Impact and Raffle

As I discussed in the history section of this blog, the Greek Festival began as a fundraiser for charity. To this day, this continues to be the case. Since the year 2000, more than $350,000 has been donated to local charities. There is a highlighted charity for each day of the festival, one of which is the Pink Chair Project, headed by Linda Caruthers. I recently wrote a blog on her and her charity, click here to read if you missed it! Lastly, there is a raffle drawing, with tickets available for purchase inside the building, and the prize is a trip to Greece! 

My Advice

I have been attending and working the festival for as long as I can remember, and I have a few bits of advice that may be helpful to visitors throughout the weekend. 

The first thing I want to talk about are the lines. With such a massive event and such little space, the festival can get extremely crowded. There have been times where the a la carte line has snaked all the way to Grove Ave. The a la carte line specifically is almost always going to be quite long, though traditionally, there are some pockets of downtime throughout the festival. If you are able, lunchtime and mid-afternoon on Thursday and Friday typically have a bit less of a crowd, allowing you to move freely from booth to booth while not having to be shoulder to shoulder at every turn. Saturday is typically the busiest day, but (in my opinion), the most fun day. The weekend has begun and the atmosphere is phenomenal. Sunday's hours are shorter, beginning later because there is a Church service, and ending early because it is the end of the weekend (and because we run out of food!). So if you are coming Sunday, get there early, there is no guarantee that all of the food I listed above will still be in stock.

Next, I wanted to run through a mock itinerary of what I would do if I were only able to visit the festival for one day. 

I would begin at the a la carte line. If I was with other people, I would probably split up the wait time by having some wait in the gyro booth line while I waited in a la carte. After getting our main food dishes, I would stop by one of the drink stations...me personally, I would go with a bottle of Greek Red wine to share with my group (please drink responsibly). Then I would grab a seat near the stage, eating food while watching the dancers and band. Afterwards, I would then make my way inside to cool off in the air conditioned marketplace. Once I finished shopping, I would stop through the Cathedral (also inside) for a tour. Then I would head back outside to the Loukoumades or Pastry booth to grab some dessert, while continuing to walk around and take in the atmosphere!

Hours and Dates

The 2024 Greek Festival takes place Thursday, May 30th- Sunday, June 2nd

  • Thursday, May 30: 11:00am - 9:00pm

  • Friday, May 31: 11:00am - 10:00pm

  • Saturday, June 1: 11:00am - 10:00pm

  • Sunday, June 2: 12:00pm - 6:00pm

*The Drive-Thru closes at Dusk

For more FAQ help, visit the Greek Festival's FAQ page, linked here.

 

Thank you for reading along. I hope that this blog provided you with a little bit of a history lesson, as well as some information for next weekend's festivities. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend. We would like to remember all of those who have served this country, and thank all of those who continue to serve and protect us.


7 comments

  • Georgia Pappas Fragale

    Excellent blog! Looking forward to all of the festivities, including a short concert given by our Cathedral choir on Saturday afternoon at 2 in the beautiful sanctuary. See you there!

  • Zoe

    I arrived in Richmond back in 1996 and immediately made lifelong friends working at the new, busy Drive-Thru! Years later, I marvel at what this phenomenal Festival has become.

  • Barbara Bambacus

    Thank you! This is s great blog and tribute to the Greek Festival! See you there!

  • Anastasia

    Love this! Great job and see you at the festival next weekend!

  • Pam Saunders

    WELL DONE!

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