With new church as backdrop, Greek Fest back at St. Sophia in Elgin
St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Elgin will hold its annual Greek Fest celebration this weekend for the first time since 2019.
And a lot has changed since then.
"Well, first off, we have a new church," said event chairman Nick Smith.
The new, $5.5 million Byzantine-style church will provide an entirely different backdrop for the event, now in its 41st year.
"It's going to be a very fresh new spin," Smith said. "We have a really nice alfresco dining area, and (the event) is going to be both inside and outside, so we're weatherproof."
The fest will be open from noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 10 p.m. Sunday at the church at 525 Church Road, just north of Interstate 90 off Route 31 in Elgin.
A new indoor plaka, or market, will give visitors a chance to tour the inside of the new church.
"We're really looking forward to the chance to show it off," Smith said.
Smith, who owns Old Republic restaurant in Elgin, is in his first year as chair of the event. He was slated to take over in 2020 before the pandemic sidelined the church's biggest annual fundraiser for two years.
He said he's bringing his experience in holding parties to Greek Fest.
"We do it every week and weekend at Old Republic, and I think we do it well," Smith said. "I'm really excited about the live entertainment and the fresh take that we're going to have on things to bring the party to St. Sophia this weekend."
While there will be indoor dining options, the traditional parking lot space will still be there for diners, but this time under a massive 100-foot by 85-foot tent.
"It's about three times the size of what we've normally had, and it's about 45 feet tall," Smith said.
There the church will offer its traditional Grecian chicken, souvlakia and gyros plates as well as sweets such as baklava and loukoumades. New bar offerings include ouzo lemonade and High Noon hard seltzers.
Entertainment will include Greek DJ music during the day and live music in the evenings. There also will be cooking demonstrations, a kids activity area and raffle tickets available with a $10,000 grand prize.
Smith, who has been a member of the church since the early 90s and was the organist there from sixth grade through high school, said it was a risk to hold the event since planning and placing deposits had to begin in January during a COVID surge.
"We talked it over as a church community, and what I heard was that, yes, it's a fundraiser, but it's also something that is very important in the sense of bringing everybody together," Smith said.