Business Insider visited with 86 year old Giorgos Hatziparaskos at his workshop in Rethymnon, Crete where he, his wife Katarina, and their son Paraskevas continue the long tradition of making phyllo dough by hand. Giorgos began working in this trade as a teenager, opening his own shop in 1960. Katarina joined him in running the shop. When Paraskevas, an engineer by trade, lost his job, he decided to join the family business. The work is hard and laborious, the dough is mixed, proved, and then stretched over a long table several times a day.
The dough is stretched over and over again until the whole table is covered. It becomes so thin, you can read through it. Katarina covers each dough layer with linen to absorb moisture slowly without losing elasticity. Then, the family repeats the process layer by layer until there’s several tissue-thin sheets stacked on each table. Going round and round the table is so physically demanding that Giorgos has to rest in between turns.
Despite the hard work that goes into making these beautiful sheets of phyllo dough, it does not bring in a great deal of money. Machine-made phyllo is far less expensive and the family has lost several lucrative contracts due to the price difference. So the family opened their shop and sells sweets to tourists.
But all this work doesn’t guarantee big sales. So the family’s profits rely mostly on the sweets sold to tourists that come in curious to see how phyllo is handmade. Machine-made phyllo is cheaper and faster. Efficient industrial production lines can churn out 100 to 300 kilograms of dough an hour. The stiff competition doesn’t deter Giorgos.
Sadly, the worldwide pandemic has caused the business to suffer a great loss, yet the Hatziparaskos family remains hopeful for the future.
Tourist traffic to the Hatziparaskoses’ workshop has dropped significantly in 2020. Lines to get in weren’t uncommon in better years. But it still remains an important landmark for the community, and locals will say it’s the town’s main attraction.