Phyllo Sophies — Sagaciously making a Greek pastry for over 100 years in Crete
Where: Heraklion, Crete, Greece 🇬🇷
“Antonis here 16 years. Misses Dafni, inside, here 21 years.” Vasilis Moustockas, the manager at Phyllo Sophies on Crete in Greece said to me as we stood outside the bakery & cafe, located in the centre of Heraklion, the island’s largest city.
It was a comment that Antonis, whose tenure Vasilis commented on, that caught my attention moments earlier. When preparing to settle my bill, Antonis told me his own father worked at the bakery & cafe for 51 years.
It was this comment and the quality of a traditional pastry I had just eaten, a Bougatsa, that inspired me to learn more.
Born in Lamea, Greece, a town near Athens, Vasilis Moustockas is the current manager of the bakery & cafe, having worked at the company for seven years.
How Phyllo Sophies began
“Apostolos Salkintzis [who] built this business it was only here,” Vasilis drew a line with his hands to describe the original size of the cafe in 1922. The demarcation was about a quarter of the size it is now.
The original founder, Apostolos, immigrated to the island from a village in the western Anatolian Peninsula called Thamida in the Smyrni (Smirni) region. This presumably would have occurred during the population exchange between present day Greece & Türkiye during at the end of the Ottoman period. In present day, this region would in the area of İzmir, Türkiye. (This same population exchange period has also been referenced in the IB articles Making Ouzo on the Island of Lesbos (Greek side) and A little gem in Alaçatı (Turkish side))
Now operated by the Greek family’s third generation, it was the current proprietor, Giannis Salkintzis, who expanded the business to its current size.
What Bougatsa is
Bougatsa is a pastry made with phyllo, a type of baking material (somewhat akin to dough), and traditionally filled with cream or cheese. Vasilis made mention though that the company has expanded its Bougatsa offerings over the years.
“Spinach & feta, meat, zucchini & cheese,” were some of the options Vasilis rhymed off. And there are now even vegan options to cater to evolving needs. But most popularly patrons appear to order the traditional Greek pastry with: cream or cheese.
I was told Bougatsa can be found in various parts of Greece (Thessaloniki was mentioned, as an example) but it’s here on Crete that first generation Apostolos began making the traditional pastry with Mizithra cheese, a cheese indigeneous to the island.
A New Year’s tradition
Vasilis told of a fun-spirited tradition when years ago men would play cards and the winners would buy Bougatsa for the losers as a way to cultivate comaraderie and fun amongst friends. And, of course, so the losers wouldn’t feel too disappointed by the card game outcome.
“…the winner they came down and take Bougatsa for the losers. To go to the house, you know, it’s okay, no problem, something sweet for the women,” He told of the tradition.
In current times the tradition has evolved. Now the company opens for “48 hours” consecutively beginning on December 31st and going to the evening on January 1st. And people come and celebrate the ringing in of the New Year with each other, and of course, Bougatsa.
Born on the mainland in a small town named Lamea (near Athens), Vasilis came to the island over 20 years ago and graduated with an engineering degree. He has worked at the bakery & cafe for 7 years and currently is the manager.
Although he told me more about himself when I asked, he was quick to turn the attention back on the current owner, Giannis Salkintzis.
“Mr. Salkintiz [current owner], I’ve known him 20 years. And the last seven years we’ve been together, I admire him.”
When asked more about his previous studies he said, “Unfortunately here in Greece it’s difficult to do what you study,” An implication pointing to the general economic environment in Greece in recent years.
But although Vasilis may have been classically trained in a different field than hospitality & restaurant, his appreciation for his current position was clear.
“I [originally] came here to study. I’m an engineer,” Vasilis said to me. “But I love this job.”
Framed photos line the wall at over 100 year old bakery & cafe, Phyllo Sophies. The company is now principally operated by the founding family’s third generation.
Staff move quickly & professionally to serve a steadily growing audience on a Sunday morning. The bakery & cafe is situated in the centre square of Heraklion in Crete, Greece.
The family has considered expanding abroad to places like the United States and Canada. But I got the sense that they weren’t rushed and were very thoughtful about such a decision—An approach that lives up to their name.
The current owner, Giannis, has two daughters, Emilia and Rania. Although succession past the current generation wasn’t asked or brought up during the visits, the two daughters names were listed on a company poster along with the current and preceding family operators. Such a listing alludes to such an aspiration. The full listing of lineage includes: Apostolos (founder), sons Anestos & Kostas, Yiannis (Giannis) (son of Kostas and current proprietor), and Emilia & Rania (daughters of Giannis)
Antonis Karagiannis (l) & Vasilis Moustockas (r) stand together for a photo on a visit to Phyllo Sophies, a 100+ year bakery & cafe in the centre of Heraklion in Crete, Greece. Antonis has worked at the company for 16 years. And before him, his father for 51 years.
In the centre square in Heraklion on the island of Crete in Greece is Phyllo Sophies, a third-generation operating a bakery & cafe as rich in history and tradition as the delicious taste of its principal offering, the Bougatsa.