Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

Authentic Cuisine and Technology
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Authentic Cuisine and Technology

Tasos Manouras and Kiki Karakatsani
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1 Tasos Manouras, 2016 2 Kiki at Microsoft, 2016Tasos Manouras and Kiki Karakatsani are part of a recent group of Greek immigrants who bring a high level of education to the growing economy in the Seattle, Washington, area.

The Greeks who immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s did so because of poor conditions in Greece and to seek a better way of life. Similarly, in the early 2000s, Greek immigrants have left poor economic conditions in their home country. One difference is that today’s immigrants are much better educated. In both instances, the brighter, more industrious Greeks are the ones who found their way to America.

TASOS’ STORY

3 Tasos with grandparents, 1980Tasos’ paternal grandparents and great grandparents were from Trikala, in the administrative region of Thessaly. His great grandfather is reported to have experienced a vendetta on the island of Crete and fled to the village of Filira, near Trikala, where he changed his name from ManourAS to ManOUras (just a slight change in the accented syllable). His grandmother was one of eight or nine children. Thus, Tasos has “thousands” of cousins. His father, Apostolos, (born in 1949) is an engineer who had his own business building and manufacturing water and air pumps including a service department for the pumps until he retired in 2009.

Tasos’ mother, Sofia Kalograia, was from a smaller family, having only one sister. Her parents were 4 Tasos with parents, 1980originally from the town of Monasteri, which at that point belonged to Greece and is now in Serbia. She relocated to the port of Piraeus and later settled in Thessaloniki. Sofia holds degrees in literature and law and currently oversees nine language schools.

Tasos (Anastasios) was born in Thessaloniki on a snowy day, January 9, 1979.  He has been called Thaso or Tayso by those who find his name unusual. He has also learned that his last name can mean na sou kano manoura or to “cause trouble” which should not be confused with manouri, the cheese. As is customary for some Greeks, he has also used his mother’s maiden name, Kalograias.

5 Panos and Tasos, 1981During Tasos’ childhood in the 1980s, Thessaloniki did not have many play grounds so Tasos and his friends enjoyed simple outdoor antics, playing with wooden swords and fighting with each other in vacant properties. He remembers when there were only a couple of television channels in Greece, with only one cartoon channel for children. In addition to learning English along with his peers at school he learned some English from his parents. He also practiced English with foreign tourists while spending the summers 6 Tasos spearfishing octopus 1986with his grandparents in Paliouri, Halkidiki. He especially enjoyed spear fishing with his father in their psarokaiko (small fishing boat). He also had the opportunity to go hiking on Mt. Athos where each monastery has its own celebration on August 15th of each year for the Panagia (Virgin Mary) celebration.

In Thessaloniki, Tasos attended7 Aggelos, Alexandros, Tasos, Othon, Panos, Vaggelis and Dimitris, 1989 pre-kindergarten, grade school, junior high and high school, graduating in 1996. It was his desire to explore education and travel outside of Greece.  He passed the Panellinies (college examinations) for the University in Greece but chose to combine his two desires with studies in English literature at the University of Kent in England and a diploma in management studies followed by work and travel in Europe. During his last year in England, Tasos worked at a number of jobs including being a bouncer at a night club, much to his parents’ dismay, as they feared he would be assaulted every night.

8 Tasos, first business2001He returned to Greece in 2002 where he began his own business which he 9 Tasos in Greek airforce, 2006operated until 2011. Tasos knew he wanted to combine his love of working with people and a desire to create something unique. He found it very difficult as it took him over six weeks visiting the various offices before a legal entity was established, a process that takes only a few minutes online in the United States. He created an advertising company, named Wave, where he organized lectures and coordinated promotional events for a number of companies. His success came from “doing it the Greek way – with a handshake” rather than with legal contracts. In 2006 he began his nine-month military service in the Greek Air Force. Fortunately, he was able to continue operating his business while performing his military duties.

KIKI’S STORY

Kyriaki “Kiki” Karakatsani’s maternal great grandparents, the Karageorgious, had emigrated from Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey) in 1922 to Thessaloniki where she and her parents were born. The prefix kara means black in Turkish and “Georgios” is George in Greek. Kyriaki has found that the name Kiki is easier for many to pronounce especially as it is rare to find any English words that have the accent on the last syllable. She continues to use her family name rather than Manouras as it has been well established in her professional career. Also, changing the many credit cards, identifications, driving license, passport, e-mails etc. would be very difficult and time consuming.

Her great papou grandfather was an aristocrat merchant who owned a large olive oil business, among others, and spoke four languages. His children were highly educated and he expected them to pursue professional work.  Thus, when one daughter fell in love with the family horse trainer, he refused to give his blessing and the couple ran away. During the Turkish invasion the couple was separated but miraculously found each other much later in Thessaloniki. Their granddaughter, Kiki’s mother, is Aggelina (nee Karageorgiou) Karakatsani.

10 Anastasios and Aggeliki Karakatsani wedding, 1975 11 Anastasios, Kiki, Dimitris and Aggeliki, 1978 12 Aggeliki, Kiki, Konstantia Karageorgiou (grandmother), Giorgios Lomis (cousin) Roula Lomi (aunt) 1978

Kiki’s father’s family was also from the Izmir area, closer to Aidini, where the family owned a large mansion. Although there are no relatives there now, when Kiki visited the area in 2009 she experienced eerie feelings as the home is just as her great grandmother left it. Kiki’s father, also Tasos, was an 13 Kiki and Dimitris, 1983entrepreneurial engineer and owned his own business. When she was three years old he died, ironically from an electrical shock.

Thus, Aggelina was left alone to raise Kiki and her younger brother, Dimitris. Aggelina is said to have compensated for Tasos’ absence by providing her children with every advantage possible to keep up with her family’s education and traditions. In fact, Aggelina worked three jobs at one time; managing European investment funds for the Greek Ministry of Agriculture, as a consultant for an accountant and as a consultant for a logistics company during the weekends. Fortunately, Aggelina’s brother, Yiannis, played a major role with Kiki and Dimitri’s upbringing and even lived with the family for a while. Other relatives in Thessaloniki were also close by and assisted when necessary.

Kiki began learning English at the age of seven 14 Kiki, 1986at the frondistirio (after-school tutoring program). She first attended a private school, but when her brother began his education at the area’s elementary school she transferred there to support him.  Kiki grew up with computers from the age of 10, taking lessons at the nearby library. She owned her first personal computer (PC) at the age of 12 and took private programming lessons. Heavily influenced by her mother and with her own hard work and ambition, Kiki’s education continued with exceptional marks. She finished high school, successfully passed the Panhellenic exams and entered the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki where she began a five-year course in electrical and computer engineering. She was one of 20 women students in a class of 170. She completed her master’s degree there with a specialization in satellite tele-communications but was not interested in simply a technical role. Thus, she went to the United Kingdom (UK) and earned a second master’s degree in business administration in 2001.

15 Kiki at National Parade, 1993Planning to remain in the UK, Kiki applied and received an offer by Unilever, one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. She joined Unilever through the Universal Companies Management Development Scheme (UCMDS), a two-year program for graduates providing on-the-job and personal development training. This experience included travel to different countries and working with different companies, one of which was Microsoft. Her last placement was in Trumbull, Connecticut, where she “fell in love” with the United States.   From there she accepted her first management position with Unilever in the UK with responsibility for upgrading 85,000 PCs from Windows NT to Windows XP. For the next year and a half she lived out of a suitcase, traveling extensively and working closely with Microsoft. In 2004, Kiki decided to return to Greece where she joined Crystal Audio, in an international sales and marketing position for one year. Then, she applied for a position with Microsoft Greece and was hired in 2006 to lead Windows in Greece, where she had the opportunity to launch Windows Vista, and then Windows 7.

16 Tasos, cousin Niko, Kiki, 1993 17 Tasos and Kiki wedding, 2009When Kiki was 16, she had the chance to attend an intensive English summer program in the UK. The teacher, Sofia Kalograia, happened to bring her son along and that was the beginning of the friendship between Tasos and Kiki.  That friendship continued and developed. They were married on December 18, 2009.

 

LEAVING GREECE

Signs of a declining economy began to appear in 2008 as Tasos’ clients reduced their advertising budgets. Many were small businesses with little available capital. Checks were being written on bank accounts with insufficient funds.  Other European resources were less and less available for Greek businesses. Elected officials were unable to alter the downward trends and Tasos could see the economic future in Greece was not going to improve for some time. In 2010, when George Papandreou announced that Greece was entering the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Tasos discovered that other IMF country members, including Bolivia and Argentina, also had declining economies.  He knew he had to do something else.

Kiki had been in discussions for a position with Microsoft at its Redmond, Washington, campus headquarters. Then after her marriage to Tasos and the birth of their first child, Iasonas (Jason) in 2010, an offer came from Redmond.  Tasos knew his family responsibilities had increased significantly. He and Kiki knew they would need to leave Greece in order to make the best use of their education for the benefit of their family.

LIFE IN WASHINGTON

Tasos believes that there are a lot of cultural differences between Europeans and Americans. Greeks tend to initially be a bit cold with others, unless they are related or connected somehow. Tasos and Kiki have found their new American acquaintances to be “super friendly.” During their early days in Seattle while Tasos was strolling in Marymoor Park with his one-year-old, Jason, he was very impressed with the warm greetings they received. Now, with a second child, Odysseus, born in 2014, the family is even becoming accustomed to the cloudy Northwest weather. It was difficult leaving their families and “snatching” a new grandchild from the hands of their papou and yiayia (grandfather and grandmother) in Thessaloniki. 18 Jason and Odysseus, 2015However, by giving their children historic, wandering names (Jason and Odysseus) rather than naming them after their grandparents, it was almost prophetic that Tasos and Kiki would leave Greece. Fortunately, they return to Greece every year to visit family and swim in the Aegean Sea and the grandparents are able to visit Seattle a few weeks each year.

At first, Tasos considered working for a big company in Seattle but discovered a gap in the market for authentic Greek food products. As he was buying, preparing and cooking meals for the family he wanted to provide them with the best food possible.  At the same time, he wanted to help those in Greece who were willing to work to improve their financial situation. He has found his business Ariadne Pure www.ariadnepure.com to be a rewarding venture in which he can combine high quality ingredients and simple recipes. He imports products directly from Greece and, despite the uncertainty there, his suppliers have been able to maintain the supply of high quality olive oil, honey, grape syrup and other goods. His products are sold in a number of restaurants and retail locations around the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Tasos enjoys educating his customers and the opportunity to work with food both on a nutritional and social level. Tasos remembers from his Greek mythology that Polyphemus, the giant son of Poseidon and Thoosa, was the first person to make milk products from his sheep. It was the first yogurt without all the 19 Tasos cooking, 2015additives, variations and certifications required today. He is very pleased when those sampling his products are surprised at the fresh and natural tastes. When asked where one can find the best food, Tasos replies, “In my kitchen!” The east side of Seattle’s Lake Washington, where the family lives and Kiki works, has few restaurants serving Greek food. When Tasos was asked if he is ready to open a kafenio (coffee house) or a restaurant, the possibility brought a smile to his face.

In Greece, Tasos grew up with Greek Orthodox prayers at school, icons on the walls, study of the liturgy and attending church regularly. The church in Greece, as it does in the United States, has provided a social gathering place in addition to the faith. Young Greeks and Greek-Americans in the United States may be less involved in their Greek culture with passing generations; this too is the case in Greece as western and worldly influences have increased. Since Kiki had visited the United States twice a year while working in Greece, and with her Microsoft connections, their move to Washington was not a difficult transition. The couple seeks to provide the best possible education and experience for their sons in the United States and has no current plans to return to Greece. While their association with the Greek Orthodox Church and its community is infrequent, their sons have been baptized in the faith and they do their best to maintain their Greek traditions.

In Seattle, Tasos has found government agencies to be much more supportive of his interests and business development than in Greece. With Microsoft and other growing companies looking for new talent, he believes even more young Greeks will come to the area. He is grateful that the educational system is more predictable and that educators work to find the strengths and weaknesses in their students beginning with kindergarten. While Greek is the only language spoken at home, six-year-old Jason has begun to play with words, speaking with a combination of both Greek and English. There are some informal Greek reading and writing classes being taught in east side homes and Tasos is hopeful a more organized system will develop.

Kiki is presently the Business Manager and Chief of Staff for the Internet of Things (IoT) team within the 20 Tasos with his products, 2015Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) department at Microsoft and is enthused about the dynamic, changing future and huge opportunity that exists in the field of technology.

Tasos believes it is important to help those in Greece who are struggling, not simply by sending money, but by helping them develop their own businesses. By importing his products directly and showing his Seattle customers what pure products such as extra virgin olive oil and natural honey taste like, he is doing what he can to accomplish that goal.

By John and Joann Nicon, April, 2017
 

PHOTOS
1 Tasos, 2016
2 Kiki, 2016
3 Tasos with maternal grandparents, 1980
4 Tasos with parents, 1980
5 Panos and Tasos, 1981
6 Tasos spearfishing octopus 1986
7 Childhood friends Aggelos, Alexandros, Tasos, Othon, Panos, Vaggelis and Dimitris, 1989
8 Tasos, first business, 2001
9 Tasos in Greek air force, 2006
10 Anastasios and Aggeliki Karakatsani wedding, 1975
11 Anastasios, Kiki, Dimitris and Aggeliki, 1978
12 Aggeliki, Kiki, Konstantia Karageorgiou (grandmother), Giorgios Lomis (cousin) Roula Lomi (aunt) 1978
13 Kiki and Dimitris, 1983
14 Kiki, 1986
15 Kiki at National Parade, 1993
16 Tasos, cousin Niko, Kiki, 1993
17 Tasos and Kiki wedding, 2009
18 Jason and Odysseus, 2015
19 Tasos cooking, 2015
20 Tasos with his products, 2015
Photo 1 and 2 by John Nicon; 19 by Venice Buhain, all others from Manouras and Karakatsani family collection
SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, March 2016