Customer Feature: Linda Caruthers

Customer Feature: Linda Caruthers

For this week's blog, I had the pleasure of interviewing a very special guest, Linda Caruthers. We talk about her background, the impact that Nick's has had on her family's life, the importance of having Greek "parea", and the charity which she founded, the Pink Chair Project (please read until the end to hear more about this wonderful project). I thoroughly enjoyed this interview, and want to again give a huge THANK YOU to Ms. Caruthers for agreeing to allow me to write about her truly amazing life and experiences. Without further ado, let's jump straight into the blog.

Linda (Elefteria) Caruthers was born and raised in New York City. Her family hails from Ionnina, Greece, which is in the mountainous northwestern region of the country. She grew up in Astoria, Queens, which she described as “a mini little Athens”. Astoria has changed since her younger years, but still remains a place with a strong Greek community. Linda did not speak English until she started school, although she was the first one in her family to be born in the United States. In 1975, her family decided to make the move from Astoria, NY to Richmond, VA. 

After moving, she said, “One of the first things all Greek families do is try to find a Greek market, some connection to Greek food. A place where you can find your feta cheese, your olive oil, your phyllo, your lentils, etc.” After her family introduced themselves at the local Greek Church (St. Constantine and Helen) they found out about Nick’s Produce. At that time, the store was located on Broad Street, and her entire family “piled into the car”, and met the founders of Nick’s, Nick and Marianthi Mouris. 

One of the first things she remembers from the visit was Marianthi’s hospitality. “She sat everyone down and made us drink her tea,” Linda recalls. Her first visit, in October of 1975, sticks in her mind, “I remember so well, we drank tea, we got to know one another…ok this is perfect, now Richmond will be home, now I feel ok”. Over the years, having raised her children in Richmond while getting to know the next generation of Nick’s ownership, Manuel and Zoe Mouris, “Nick’s Produce has done a really good job in serving our Greek community.” 

The next portion of the blog is in Q/A format, questions from me are in italics, followed by answers from Linda Caruthers. 

Me: Why do you think Greeks have such a strong tie to their culture, their heritage, and their food?

Linda: I think there is such a connection because there is no separation of Church and culture, it’s one. I will never forget what a very good friend of mine (who is not Greek) said to me many years ago after I told her that I was moving to Richmond. She said, “Oh you’ll be fine because once you find a Greek Church, it is like finding a Greek country club.” When she made that comment, I thought…she’s right. There’s not that many of us (Greeks) and so we seek the traditions that we were raised with. It is part of who we are, we all ate the same things on Easter or Christmas. It is truly like a Greek country club, you are born in as a member. 

Me: I know you are involved in a lot at the Church and for the Greek community here in Richmond. What are some of the highlights of what you’ve done?

Linda: Over the years I have gotten involved in different ways. When my children were younger, I was in charge of the Greek School PTA. Now I am in charge of the makaria administry. Makaria is the “mercy” meal after the funeral. To celebrate the deceased and gather together for the first time as a family after burying their loved one. It is a painful time, but it is wonderful to be able to leave the cemetery and return to the church and have a meal, and begin the transition. Over the years, many roles, I can’t think of them all but I feel as though I am a very valuable and welcome part of the community. 

Me: I think that is a testament to your character that you can’t even remember all of the roles you’ve had within the community because there have been so many, and you have done so much. We are very thankful to have members like you in the community. 

Linda: Thank you, teamwork works! Oh, and I was also in charge of baking Phinicia (Melomakarona) when we first started the festival. Of course now, it is huge. 60,000 people…it takes a village.

Me: Actually, let’s talk about that for a second, the Greek Festival.

Linda: Yes the Festival, it brings Greece to Richmond! When we first started in 1976, there was so few of us, yet we were so excited that we were able to introduce the community to the Greek food and Greek culture. This year, with the iconography additions to the church, I think the sanctuary tours will be quite popular.

Me: Why do you think that Americans are so drawn to the Greek food and Greek culture at our festival?

Linda: I think it’s more about the hospitality. The food is good and it fills your belly. But I think the word φιλότιμο in Greek, a hard word to define. But on Youtube, there is a video that tries to define it. To me, it means hospitality, respect, love of the people around you. We aren’t just going to feed you. We are going to talk, have fellowship, celebrate, and laugh. We will smile, and maybe we will do a little bit of crying too. Over the years…my friends know I am Greek…and they all come up to the festival and see me but it’s not just me. It’s the food, the dancing, the marketplace, there are so many things which draw someone to the festival. It is a very different experience than anything else offered in Richmond, I think.

Me: Throughout the years that you have been going to Nick’s, how have you seen it change?

Linda: I like the fact that you are closer now, not that going downtown was super difficult, but it was a bit of a bear. Now, I think there is more of a specialized variety. Because of the internet, the ability to see all of your items on your website. Making a shopping list and saying ok, I am ready to go to Nick’s. Being able to talk to someone before I make the trip over there. I can buy a single package, or an entire carton of something. I like the fact that you are able to offer the website, but also have a brick and mortar location where I can come in and talk to you. For me, that is important. I want to be able to see something, to touch it, to smell it. For that, I am grateful, and I think other members of our community would say the same. 

Me: at Nick’s, we try and pride ourselves on being family-oriented. Have you gotten that sense over the years?

Linda: Regenerating the culture of Astoria, where I grew up with so many Greeks, is not easy in Richmond, where in comparison, there are so few Greeks. Going to Nick’s and being in Nick’s was a treat for my kids, and they would respond, “oh yay!” My daughter Tina would look for the Papadopoulos cookies, she knew exactly where they were in the store. My other daughter wanted the Joyva Halva. That then trickled down to my granddaughters. I have four grandchildren, and for my two oldest, Zoe and Sophia, it was the biggest treat to them. There is a certain peach drink Sophia loved. She would get very upset if she found out that I went to Nick’s and didn’t come back with a bottle of it for her. It is something that they still continue to look forward to today, as 22 and 18 year olds. So for my family in general, it almost is like a mini trip to Athens, that is the best way I can describe it. 

Me: Transitioning to another topic, the Lenten season is upon us. Probably the Holiest time of the year for Orthodox Christians. Meal planning is more difficult during this time due to fasting…what products have you found at Nick’s that you like to get during this time period?

Linda: The beans, the lima beans and the Greek Giant Beans (gigandes).The canned sardines and anchovies. The wheat berries, of course, I prepare them all year long for Koliva (funeral prep), but I even eat them as cereal. I keep them in the freezer and they defrost really well. The freezer section, you have the horta and many more frozen vegetables that you carry from Greece. The canned foods, the beans, the dolmades. The Greek Mountain Tea, which I get by the case, ha ha. Nick’s has a variety of things. Whatever you want for Lent, you’ll find it. If you’re not sure what you want, just ask a question and you’ll get the answer. It really is a little trip to Greece.

Me: Following Lent is Pascha, the great celebration. As Greeks, we eat A LOT on that day. Is there anything on your radar for Pascha prep?

Linda: The noodles, the pasta #2 for pastichio. You are not going to find them in any other grocery store. That is a specific pasta for pastichio, it works the best. The phyllo. You can go to any grocery store and you will find phyllo, however, it is usually the store brand, and that is not real phyllo. What I like at Nick’s is…you have the real stuff, and you have different sizes. The #4, the #7, the #10 as well. If I am preparing a savory pie, like a spanakopita, I prefer the thicker phyllo. If I am preparing a dessert like the baklava or galaktoboureko, I prefer the finer, thinner phyllo. At Nick’s, it’s the quality, the ingredients...really look at the ingredients. Big, big difference. It is the way the phyllo is prepared and frozen. It is so much easier to handle than the ones that come from the grocery store. Then you have your cheeses, your spices, all wonderful. Especially your seasoning, Nick’s Greek Seasoning. Ok…I put that in everything. If I am preparing American chili, an Italian dish like a caprese salad, it doesn’t matter, it gets the seasoning. It goes with everything, and it is delicious. Last time I was there I bought an entire case. 

Me: Are there any distinct ingredients that keep you coming back?

Linda: The quality is different because it is genuine. The olive oil, which I mentioned earlier, is what makes Greek meals rich and delicious. If you look at the quality of olive oils in the super markets, they are usually mixed with other oils or different olives from different countries. But the Greek olive oils have the best flavor. Especially if it is the first press of the olives. I think you could do our community a big favor by discussing the difference between the first press compared to other olive oils. (maybe a future blog idea for me!). To me, the olive oil is like the Greek gold. If you look at a genuine Greek cookbook there is a section of Lathira. Of course, in Greek, Lathi means oil. Lathira are dishes prepared with olive oil, usually vegetable dishes, and meat as well. Olive oil enhances every savory dish. If it is a quality olive oil like you have at Nick’s, it really hits the spot. It makes a huge difference, it really does. 

Me: Is there anything else you wanted to add that I didn’t ask you about concerning Nick’s?

Linda: Really it’s great all year round. It is an adventure to me, all year round, to take my granddaughters. It is a special place. It is not like going to the grocery store. You are in there discovering things you have never seen before. And my granddaughters will say to me, can we buy this, can we try this? And your grandmother Marianthi, I remember she always had the tea. And I remember soup too I think? 

Me: Yes, my papou Nick’s famous lentil soup.

Linda: Oh yes, lentil soup! You would walk in, be handed a cup of tea and a bowl of soup. There was a little area in the back with a table and a couple of chairs and you would just hang out, and have your soup, and then shop…it was fun! 

Me: I do want to talk about your charity. The Pink Chair Project, a wonderful thing that you are doing. What led you to begin this journey?

Linda: In December of 2020, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor who ran the test said to me, “If we didn’t have the new machines we would not have seen this for another year or two years, and we would be having a very different conversation.” So I thought to myself, wow, I am very lucky. And as I began my recovery, one of the items which I needed to purchase was an electric, remote-controlled recliner, which I was not aware of. What bothered me more than anything was the number of young women who had babies with them who were going through chemo and radiation. And I thought, this is terrible and expensive, are they even going to be able to afford a chair on top of all this? The recliner, you’re talking a couple of thousand dollars. In that moment I thought to God…OK help me, and I am going to give this back somehow. And I got through it, and I was very fortunate by the way, my daughter had a recliner. This was during COVID and really you couldn’t find any recliners, everything was on backorder. 

And so the Pink Chair Project RVA is a program that I started after contacting the Hawthorne Cancer Foundation at Johnston-Willis hospital, where I am still a patient. Of course, you are never finished with cancer, it still goes on. And I presented my idea to the board of directors and they said, “That’s a great idea,” and I was shocked, I really thought they would say no, but they went with it. So here we are now, we launched in January 2022, we are now entering into our third year. We have delivered 57 recliners to 57 different patients, both male and female. It is working very well. We are very proud of what we do. We touch every patient’s life. Financial qualifications are not required, it doesn’t matter who you are, or where in the Richmond-area you are from. We are hoping to expand our reach, but right now, we do not have the resources. But I am very grateful for the program and we have touched a lot of lives, and it does make a difference. 

To read more about the project, and to donate to this amazing cause, please visit

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