At Katina’s Greek Cafe, owner Kathy Skinos rolls out her phyllo – the traditional light, flaky dough – making about a thousand pieces of the sweet dessert baklava a day, as well as 600 to 700 squares of the hot appetizers spanakopita and tiropita.
There’s no actual cafe, but her authentic Greek treats are produced in a Lenexa commercial kitchen and then packaged and sold in the frozen food section of Hen House stores, Dean and Deluca, and the Brookside Market.
Skinos’ parents owned and operated Georgia’s Greek Cuisine restaurant for many years, so she learned from experts.
Q: Why did you start the business?
“We weren’t finding really good Greek appetizers,” Skinos said. Rather than go into the restaurant business, Skinos chose to tackle the issue another way.
“I came into the business more to be a wholesaler and food processor.… For me, to be a one person operation is easier to manage. I wanted to produce a gourmet product before Greek food was popular like now. I loved art and I loved food.”
Besides learning from her parents, Skinos spent several years working for Kellogg’s Cereal Co. and Pillsbury.
“It taught me a lot and allowed me to meet a lot of people in the food business,” she said. “I know what it takes to sell frozen food.”
It was grocer Fred Ball who helped Skinos in the beginning.
“Through him, he allowed me to use their (Hen House) deli kitchens at night,” she said. “Then he started me with one of his stores and said ‘Go from there.’
“Fred was a real mentor to me.”
Q: How did you finance your business?
“I did it on my own,” Skinos said. “I never have financed it through loans. My dad gave me $5,000 to buy equipment.… I’ve not had to put out a lot of capital because I’ve been renting” space.
Skinos does all the production work herself. She gets her phyllo dough from Chicago and buys the other ingredients locally.
“I use a lot of fresh ingredients. There are no fillers. And I use 100 percent butter,” she said.
Katina’s offers four flavors of spanakopita – plain cheese, olive, spinach, and mushroom and onion.
Katina’s busiest time of the year is the holidays, which accounts for 30 to 40 percent of her total sales. She has a group of retirees from her church who help package the food during the crunch times; otherwise Skinos is a one-person shop.
Skinos usually makes and bakes her treats two days a week, but more often as the end of the year approaches.
“It really heats up now through the holidays,” said Skinos.
The majority of sales are through the retail stores, but Katina’s does some business through its website, www.katinasgreekcafe.com.
“I have a Greek lady from Alabama who orders from me,” Skinos said. “And I get a considerable number of orders from the East Coast.”
Q: How do you market your products?
“I do demonstrations with samples, and I did temporary price reductions to get people to try my product,” Skinos said. “That has really propelled the market. Once people try it they love it.… So many people knew my mom so they would try it.… I continue to market through my website and some articles in local publications. Facebook has really helped out a lot.”
Q: How did the economic downturn affect Katina’s?
Skinos said she saw a drop in sales when the recession hit.
“I think it was because of price,” Skinos said. “My product was a little more expensive than those sold in boxed stores.”
A half-dozen spanakopita package averages $6.99 retail while the same size baklava package runs $10.99. Because of the recession, Skinos made the decision to reduce her operating costs.
“I sold some of my equipment to a guy I rent space from in Lenexa,” she said.
Q: Any other challenges?
Her greatest business challenge is one many small businesses face.
“As a small entrepreneur, it’s getting the word out on my product and selling to the marketplace without making a major investment,” said Skinos, but that hasn’t stopped her. Skinos is always thinking about what she might add to expand her line of Greek baked goods.
“I think a fun thing to do would be to make a chocolate baklava, but I haven’t found a good recipe,” she said.
Q: What’s the next thing you would you like to do?
Skinos has thought about writing a cookbook.
“That would give people new recipes,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out the best way to approach this. I would like to talk about the regions of Greece and the food that’s eaten there.”