Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Maria Kalomenidou, Founder and CEO of Zelos Authentic Greek Artisan, located in Cincinnati, OH, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Zelos Authentic Greek Artisan is a purpose-driven online marketplace that I started in 2017 because I wanted to share with others my zēlos (“zeal”) for healthy & tasty Greek food and take them beyond the usual clichés of Greek food here in the States.

I also wanted to give back to the land of my birth by helping authentic Greek artisans find their American audience, allowing these small, often family-run businesses, to grow during Greece’s economic crisis and later during the pandemic. I’ve been thrilled with the response Zelos has gotten - our customers come from all 50 states in the Union and span the generations, from young adults to growing families to empty nesters… to online shoppers in their 80s!! I think they all have in common a desire for ethical, responsibly-sourced food & gifts and an innate curiosity to find out more about the world.

Tell us about yourself

I was born and raised in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city but left in my ‘20s and ended up working and raising three kids on three different continents. In 2004 we moved to Cincinnati, where I worked as a freelance web designer for nearly a decade and pursued my love of art, food, and cooking. I’m a very visual person and had a wonderful experience collaborating with chefs and artists on a project for The Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, and I knew I wanted to keep working in a creative food-related space.

But to tell you the truth, it was always hard to find the high-quality, all-natural ingredients that I was used to cooking with when visiting Greece in the summers… so I decided to do something about it! I never realized, though, just how much joy it would bring me to share this Greek approach of “love through food” with so many people - I can’t tell you how many truly heart-warming messages we get from people who tell us that our food and gift boxes bring back memories of their childhood or their honeymoon in Greece, or how a gift played a small part in making up for cancelled trips and family reunions during the pandemic. Our community is so special and surprisingly diverse, and they are definitely a big motivator in keeping me going each and every day.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I’m proud of two things I’ve accomplished with Zelos. First of all, I do think we’re changing people’s image of Greek food (one Artisan at a time, as I like to say!), helping them discover organic, all-natural, small-batch products that used to be hard to find here in the States. We’re helping them realize how easy and tasty it can be to live by the Mediterranean Diet, with all its health benefits.

Second, I’m so proud that we’ve been able to help our Artisans develop and grow a US business from scratch, also helping introduce these small businesses to the amazing world of online shopping and e-commerce. We intentionally chose to support a carefully-selected group of producers that we knew followed our beliefs and philosophy rather than bringing just any product over to the States. I really did not want to become yet another mass-market Greek import business, I wanted to break the clichés and stereotypes around Greek food, and I think we’ve done that.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Definitely, the biggest responsibility I feel is towards our Artisans because I know they rely on us for a big part of their cash flow, and they face a huge struggle in Greece to maintain a healthy business model. We made a tough choice to take a more “slow burn” approach with Zelos, growing year on year but spending carefully within our means without seeking outside capital.

It hasn’t been easy to avoid the temptation of an “easy” external cash injection, but it has definitely made it easier for us to stick to our principles and to a consistent business strategy without outside investors pressuring us to go in a different direction. Those tough strategic choices are definitely the hardest part of being a business owner, but I think they’re worth it. After all, your business is really who you are.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Start your business with a solid financial plan for at least three years - it takes time to get up and running, and you need to have that guiding light to help you stay on track.
  2. Recruit a capable & committed team, no matter how big or small, that will embrace the ups & downs of a start-up environment and can help you run your business well. The devil really is in the detail.
  3. Develop a growth-oriented marketing plan and stick to it. Stay strategically consistent with your brand and business choices because you will see growth; it just takes a bit of time & patience to take off.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I can’t stress enough the importance of having a strong emotional safety net when you go into business for yourself, especially as a woman entering a traditionally male-dominated field, as I discovered the Greek food business was! I have gained so much inspiration and strength from meeting other women along this journey (I’ve even dedicated a special part of my blog to Greek Women in Business!!) and seeing how much support we give each other. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we work together!

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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