Growing Taste for Mediterranean

Inside a refurbished two-story warehouse in Paterson’s down-at-the-heels Bunker Hill area, a homegrown company is riding the nation’s wave of enthusiasm for Mediterranean cuisine.

Workers dressed in white overalls operated a mechanized production line Wednesday morning, mixing, cutting and shaping fillo — a paper-thin dough made by Kontos Foods that is used to make Greek or Middle Eastern pastries.

The production line, which was opened about a month ago, is the latest move in a steady expansion by family-owned Kontos, which in recent years has included buying its leased manufacturing and distribution facility, expanding the building and buying another one to house the fillo dough operation.

The projects were backed by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which issued bonds that were acquired by TD Bank. The two property acquisitions, the purchase of machinery and equipment, and related expenses cost $11.5 million, according to EDA records.

And despite the fact that the company added a second floor to double the size of the latest acquisition to 45,000 square feet, the expansion is still not enough, said Warren Stoll, the company’s marketing director.

“This was pretty much maxed out the day we started,” said Stoll, as he showed off the refurbished building with Steve Kontos, company vice president and a co-founder.

“We are working 24 hours a day to fill orders for Singapore, Taiwan, Korea and China,” Kontos said. He said the company added a second floor to the building, rather than develop the parking lot, so that it would still have space to expand there in the future.

The company was started in 1987 by Kontos and his father, Evris, at the time making pita bread. It now has 200 employees, 10 of whom were added when the new facility was opened. And the product line has since expanded to include 50 bread products, as well as yogurts, crepes, wraps and other items sold nationwide through retail outlets and to restaurants and hotels.

While the expansion is driven in part by growing name recognition for Kontos products, another key factor is the rising interest among American consumers in Mediterranean foods, Stoll said.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president for Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research company, said the increased interest in Mediterranean foods can be seen in the rise of Greek-concept franchises, such as Little Greek and Hungry Greek in Florida, and the Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill chain, which is soon to open a restaurant in Florham Park. In New Jersey, the It’s Greek to Me chain now has 10 restaurants, six of them in Bergen or Passaic counties.

“The second important indicator is the health and wellness trend,” in which Mediterranean food is perceived by consumers to be healthy, Tristano said. “These Mediterranean-style foods are designed for healthfulness, for lower calorie counts and are generally fresh in nature.”

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