When the Hermes Expo opened in 1992 in Atlantic City, it was founded on an idea by Paul Kotrotsios that Greek Americans and Philhellenes could find business opportunities by networking with each other. The idea took off and now, in its 27th
year, the Expo has grown beyond its original mission to include not only Greek American and Philhellenic businesses, but also non-Greek businesses looking to tap into the Greek American market, Greece and the Balkans vis a vis and giving emphasis on quality Exhibitors and Visitors, thus offering a boutique Expo.
This year, they came from all sectors of the business world to have a place at the Expo. Fifty five companies showcased their products and services at 40 exhibition booths in the Arts Ballroom on April 25th in the heart of Philadelphia. Food services and hospitality firms were well represented, but so were firms and organizations in banking and finance, medicine, legal services, travel and tourism, insurance and more. The roster of sponsors at this year’s Expo gives testament to that variety. They include Sigmapharm Laboratories, Merrill Lynch’s Greg Nerantzis, American Network Solutions and WGL Energy Providers.
On April 26th, the Expo moved to New York, with “A Taste of Hellas: A Mediterranean Palette Trade Portal” at St. Peter’s Church. The evening event, held in cooperation with the East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) and the Queens Chamber of Commerce (QCC) featured speakers on travel and tourism, importing/exporting, and included a food and wine tasting and a networking reception.
“The Hermes Expo is a place where everyone can find something of interest and most of all can communicate through our extensive network,” Kotrotsios said in his opening remarks.
In this digital age, the Expo offers a unique opportunity for business owners to network in person all in one room. “Our purpose here is to connect—on a personal basis, promoting your product, service or business, an opportunity that gives you the face-to-face business-to-business contact which is needed now more than ever before,” Kotrotsios said.
Even those chosen to be honored at this year’s Expo awards banquet, held at ESTIA’s Ballroom in Philadelphia, demonstrated the Expo’s wide range of information available to business owners, purchasers and distributors in attendance.
Dr. John Paitakes, author of “50 Years Working in Criminal Justice” and a frequent contributor to the Hellenic News, was one of the honorees at the banquet. The honorees were chosen for their contributions to the Greek American community and to society. Other honorees this year were Pauline Manos, Esq., and Evangelia Manos, Esq., former assistant district attorneys and now lawyers serving in the Law Department of the City of Philadelphia and community activists; Pete, Chris, John, and Peggy Koutroubas, owners of Little Pete’s in Philadelphia for over 40 years; the Baltimore Greek Parade Committee and Tom Dushas, businessman, philanthropist and AHEPA Supreme Governor Region 3.
“Paul said we want to highlight other careers so he knew my background was public service, criminal justice, social services,” Dr. Paitakes said. A lot of the exhibitors may be in the restaurant business, but their children may be looking at other careers, he said. “I always found pubic service to be rewarding so I’m here to spread the word.”
The Philadelphia location was yet another milestone for this year’s Expo. The city is an appropriate venue, considering that Philadelphia and Thessaloniki, Greece signed a Memorandum of Understanding back in 2002 agreeing to promote business and trade between Greece and the United States through trade fairs and conferences.
“This Expo is an important representation of the Greek culture and a gateway between the city of Philadelphia and Greece,” said Carol Brooks, manager of business services for Philadelphia, speaking at the Expo’s networking luncheon. “I’ve been after him for many, many years to host it in the city of Philadelphia, so thank you Paul.”
Bill Diamantakos, a co-partner of the Arts Ballroom, said he was happy to have the Hermes Expo. “The shows are nice,” he said. They’ve done trade shows at the Merion, another facility the partners own in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, but this is the first one for the Arts Ballroom.
Many of the exhibitors and sponsors were pleased with the urban setting.
Salvatore Ritorto of WGL Energy liked the location and the layout in the room. “I think this is a more central location for most folks,” he said, and the room made it easier for people to get together.
“I feel like being in the city was an incentive to bring more of the vendors out,” said Irene Vrentzas, with Joe Maggio Realty.Jeff Abramson of Exhibit Marketing Resources in West Chester described the city atmosphere as “very business and corporate.” “Being more in the city, in an urban business environment, I think makes a big difference. I think that’s something they can build upon and grow from that,” he said. “Hermes Expo is definitely the place to meet the Hellenic businessmen and leaders,” he continued.
Exhibitors, sponsors and visitors also gave high marks to the Expo’s overall success this year.
Christina, an office manager for Yia Yia’s Bakery in Rosedale, Maryland, said they were getting a good reception at the Expo, important she says, because the bakery is looking to expand its Philadelphia market.
Andreas Kelemidis, founder of Oinos Wine Imports, LLC in New York was a first-time exhibitor, trying to bring Greek wines to Pennsylvania. “From this Expo today, I’ve seen people hungry for Greek wines,” he said. “It was a good experience to come here today. I will be here next year for sure, and by that time we will find a representative house here in PA to represent and promote our fine wines of Greece."
Kiki Karamitopoulos Felfelis, a member of St. Demetrios Church in Upper Darby, and president of the Pan Macedonian Society in Philadelphia, has been a long-time supporter of the Expo and of the Kotrotsios family. She was checking out meat products at the Megas Yeeros booth (the original Yeero from Greece) to use at the church’s festivals and at home. “The Expo’s always been something to count on,” she said. “We get to meet new people. We get to try new things and that’s what our culture needs to grow.”
“It’s a delight meeting so many other fellow Greek Americans,” said Greg Nerantzis, senior vice president and portfolio manager at Merrill Lynch, one of the sponsors at the Expo this year. “The diversity in the crowd is amazing, the different businesses and so forth. “It’s been a pleasure being here. I’ve met some good friends.”
Ritorto said the strong turnout surpassed his expectations. He was at the Expo to help business owners figure out ways to save on their energy costs. “I think the most important part of this Expo is being able to interact and network with the actual exhibitors,” he said. “Aside from that I’ve had a chance to connect with current prospects, had a chance to rekindle relationships with current customers I may have not seen in some time, so it’s been a very productive day.
Denise Glaros, a teacher at a Greek school in Bethlehem, was at the Expo demonstrating a Greek language product, Ellinopoula.com. Developed in Greece, the interactive computer program teaches Greek as a second language for children, teens and even adults. It makes learning the language fun by using graphics, themes and sounds. “It’s something enjoyable which is what we want so they’ll stick with it. I really wanted to be here to promote it because I believe in it,” Glaros said.
Anna Sakkis, owner of Ellinopoula.com, said the Expo was a great way to introduce her company’s product. “We talked to a lot of people and we took a lot of names to follow up,” she said. “All the other exhibitors were friendly and willing to hear each other out.” She applauded the Kotrotsios family for recognizing that everyone benefits from the success of each other, one of the principal concepts of the Hermes Expo.
Rashmere Sinha, senior counsel for Peckar & Abramson, PC, Attorneys at Law appreciated the chance to meet so many restaurateurs at the Expo. The nation-wide law firm with headquarters in New Jersey specializes in helping restaurant owners deal with legal issues they may encounter. This was the firm’s first time at the Expo. “We’ve had very good feedback,” she said. “We like the culture. We like the camaraderie. It’s good. We bounce ideas off of them. They bounce ideas off of us.”
Stefanos Haviaras, a pizza business owner who also dabbles in real estate, describes Expo organizer Paul Kotrotsios as the “Facebook for Greeks” because of his ability to unite the Greek American community and to bring people to each other. He remembers as a child his mother, Katina, listening to Paul on the radio. “When I was a little kid, I would come home and there would be a radio, one station on the kitchen table and it would be the Greek radio station. And who was it—Paul Kotrotsios. My mother would have that on and it would put her in a positive place,” he said. “I thank her for exposing me to Paul.”
Haviaras, who lives in Montgomery County, is exploring business opportunities in home healthcare and healthcare management. He’s grateful that someone like Paul Kotrotsios is keeping the Greek American community together. “I’m a proud Greek American and I’m proud to know him. He keeps the restaurateurs together. He keeps the people in the medical field together. He keeps the bankers together. He is the Greek network,” he said.
Socrates Ballas of Megas Yeeros is a regular exhibitor at the Expo. He was offering a new product, strips of Yeero meat that you can cook with a flat top grill, opening up the product to 98 percent of all food service establishments. He loves the diversity of prospects that show up at the Expo and credits Paul Kotrotsios with bringing that diversity together. “He’s trying like there’s no tomorrow to keep that Greek culture alive. If you look around, you can see he’s doing a pretty good job of it. Hopefully in the years to come we can come up with ideas to make it (the Expo) grow even more.”
“I am proud and privileged to be an honorary member of the Greek American community. This is a great celebration and I think besides visiting Greece three times already and going back I hope next year, this is a great opportunity to celebrate the heritage, the language, the food, the culture , the music, the literature , the art and history of Greek Americans and of Greece. I think too often we try and forget who we are. We try and homogenize. I try to encourage as many people as possible to honor your heritage, to make sure you become everything that is American, but never forget your roots and where you came from. This is a night to celebrate, enjoy each other’s company, enjoy the food from Estia. I wish you all the best and a great and successful Expo,” said former mayoral candidate of Philadelphia and Form Philadelphia DA, Honorable Lynne Abraham.
Rutgers University student Martina Kallontzi is pursuing a PhD in Material Science and wanted to get to know the Greek American community better. “It’s a chance for us to find out how we can be incorporated into this community and mingle and network also. I get that this community has deep roots and the Expo is something that has been around for many years. People respect it and they count on it for networking. I think it’s a chance for people who have no idea and just getting started in the United States to get to know people,” she said.