The pastry lineup at the Greek Festival | Photo: Courtesy

The beloved Santa Barbara Greek Festival returns for the first time since 2019 this summer. But rather than sprawling out beneath the shady branches of Oak Park — where the event was held for 46 years until the pandemic ended the streak — the wine will be flowing, the gyros will be chomped, and the dancers will be screaming “Opa!” endlessly by the beach on June 28 and 29, with the crowds and booths taking over Chase Palm Park along Cabrillo Boulevard instead.

To get a taste of what to expect from this fundraiser for Saint Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church — which kept the spirit alive over the past four years through a grab ‘n’ go gyro concept — I asked a few of the festival participants about their backgrounds and what they’ll be serving to the masses. 

[Click to enlarge] Grilling at the Greek Festival | Photo: Courtesy

George Papador: Gyros 

George Papador was 15 when his family moved to Santa Barbara in 1973, and his family quickly became part of the Saint Barbara community, helping to revive the Greek Fest the following year. He is descended from grandparents who emigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, and the church is a big part of his family’s soul. 

“After 400 years of occupation by the Ottomans, the church was the only place people could be Greek,” said Papador, who worked at Raytheon for 40 years and is the fest’s chair this year. “My memories of my grandparents connect me to this heritage through foods, dancing, traditional values, and the love of the church.”

A “big barbecue guy,” Papador is managing the gyro booth, where he gets to liberally apply his favorite marinade. “It seems that everything is better with salt, pepper, oregano, olive oil, and lemon,” he explained. His gyros are made with beef and lamb, then wrapped in a pita and topped with red onions and tomato. “The secret is in the tzatziki sauce,” he said of the yogurt-garlic-cucumber combo. “It connects me to my grandmother, who always had a culture of yogurt in the fridge and relished in the fact that a little yogurt made everything better.”

Other savory treats being served include pork and chicken souvlaki, which are shish-kebabs, lamb chops with potatoes, stuffed grape leaves known as dolmas, and a meat-macaroni-bechamel dish called pastitsio. 

Andriana Kolendrianos: Spanakopita

A resident of Santa Barbara since 1971, Andriana Kolendrianos offered to take over the position as chair of festival pastries more than 40 years ago. “I didn’t realize it would be a forever position!” she said. “We hope to teach and pass on the treasures, recipes, methods, and traditions to the young and also learn from them as well.”

Raised in Flint, Michigan — her mom born in Detroit, but raised in Greece, and her dad from the island of Lefkas — Kolendrianos brought her grandmother to Santa Barbara to live with her family. “She had a profound impact on what we all ate, including the children,” said Kolendrianos, recalling the homemade filo dough that she’d make. “She knew every edible wild green, and there were many empty lots with edible greens in our neighborhood. She’d bring home grocery bags stuffed with greens to wash and cook, and even make spanakopitas stuffed with the wild greens. We ate them almost every day.”

Kolendrianos doesn’t dig for wild greens herself, instead relying on organic spinach from grocery stores. “I love to make spanakopita, which is spinach wrapped in filo dough,” she explained of one dish that she’ll be making for the festival. “If I don’t have filo, I can make plasto, which is from my mother’s region of Thessaly, Greece,” she said of the pie-like creation. “Instead of filo, we use cornmeal and spinach.” 

She also loves making a pan of baked mixed vegetables called tourlou tava, which is featured in the church’s cookbook The Greek Feast: Santa Barbara Style. “It’s my favorite Greek cookbook,” said Kolendrianos. “It will be available at the festival.”

As pastry chair, Kolendrianos also oversees the sweets, which will include the famous baklava pastry, yogurt cake, shortbread cookies called kourabiedes, twist-cookies called koulourakia, shredded filo with nuts and syrup called kataifi, and the honey-drenched, walnut- and cinnamon-topped doughnuts called loukoumades.

Maria Nae of Green Table: Greek Salad

Maria Nae is not Greek, but the general manager of the vegetarian restaurant Green Table ( was quickly connected to the community upon moving here from Bucharest a decade ago. 

“I’m Romanian, but sharing the same values and beliefs has brought me closer and closer to the Santa Barbara Greek community,” she said. “I’m a big fan of Greece and used to spend my summers in Corfu with my family when I was a kid. The warmth and hospitality of the Greek culture have always resonated with me, and I feel a deep connection to the traditions and cuisine.”

She’ll be preparing a Greek salad for the festival. “It’s a delightful medley of crisp cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, sweet red onions, and bell peppers, all tossed in a homemade vinaigrette and extra-virgin olive oil, and topped with Kalamata olives and creamy feta cheese,” said Nae. “Additionally, we have authentic hummus paired with warm, soft pita bread and veggies offering a true taste of the Mediterranean.”

She is happy to teach festival attendees more about this dish as well as any others being served. “If you’re curious about any of the dishes or want to learn more about Greek cooking, feel free to stop by our booth for a chat!” said Nae. “This event is a wonderful opportunity to experience Greek music, dance, and culinary traditions, and I hope everyone leaves with a deeper appreciation for Greece.”

The Santa Barbara Greek Festival is Friday, June 28, 2-9 p.m., and Saturday, June 29, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., at Chase Palm Park. Tickets are $3, but free for kids 12 and under as well as anyone wearing a toga. See

Crowds enjoying the Greek Festival | Photo: Courtesy

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