From the way we interact with one another to how we make our purchasing decisions, social media have forever altered our lives. This is the story of how my mother and I, two women who lack technological savviness, turned homesickness and passion for our local cuisine into an Instagram account that grew into a catering business.
When my family and I moved to Canada from Greece, the internet allowed us to stay connected with our friends and family back home; yet it was unable to replicate the real feeling of being there. Eventually, homesickness prevailed. Relocating to Canada was especially tough on my mother. Even though she had a successful career in the fashion industry, designing for a plethora of major brands, she knew from the start that she wouldn’t be able to continue her career here. She began filling her days with cooking and trying to cheer us up by making our favourite dishes that we couldn’t find in restaurants. Growing up close to her grandmothers and great-grandmothers who were constantly cooking for someone in the house, she learned the family recipes by heart and cooking always gave her joy. Everything was going well until she suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. Her recovery was full of ebbs and flows, and I felt the need to do something to keep her occupied and take her mind away from medical appointments, doctors, and medications.
Inspired by a friend’s mother, I decided to create an account on Instagram that she could dedicate to food. Fortunately, I had no difficulty finding a catchy and creative handle for her, since our neighbour from across the street had already given her that nickname, due to his love for her tzatziki. And just like that it began! She started cooking more and diligently creating schedules for what she wanted to post next.
English and photography are not her strongest suits, meaning that I had to assume both the titles of director of official correspondence (aka respond to messages and comments) and director of photography. Our first posts have long been archived, but running the account was a lot of fun, and my mom snapped out of the spell of inertia that her hospitalization had casted on her. Through our tiny account, we introduced our followers to our cuisine, started meeting people across the globe, and promoted some of our favourite businesses in Niagara, along with some of our favourite brands. Even when she had only 700 followers, she caught the eye of Napoleon grill, and they collaborated back in 2019.
The biggest surprise came when some of our followers began inquiring for the price of certain dishes she had posted. That request frequently came from our friends, but my mom kept brushing it as a joke. She was always happy to invite them over to cook for them or engage in a never-ending exchange of Tupperware with them.
However, when strangers started sending us messages that they were unsuccessfully trying to find some of her dishes in Greek restaurants and they were willing to buy them from us, a lightbulb went on and we discussed how we can fill that gap in the market. We knew from the start that we did not want to open a restaurant. My dad, or Papa Tzatziki as he’s also known, has been involved in the food and hospitality industry across the United States, Canada, and Europe for decades. He’s seen and done it all, and his advice was to stay away. The idea of a catering business, though, was appealing to all parties, and we registered our business in October 2020.
Our neighbour advised me to create a page on Facebook and post promos for her to share with her friends and colleagues in the area. And this became our business model. One or two posts per week on Facebook with promos, and an open invitation for our customers to place their orders through our inbox.
We immediately had orders from friends and followers who were waiting for us to start our business, but the greatest satisfaction was our customers’ reviews and messages. Hearing that our food reminds them of meals they had in Greece, or that they can tell that our food “is a labour of love” gives us strength to continue what we have been doing. Our business has received so much love, and through word of mouth and numerous happy customers, we were able to build our clientele.
Since then, our business has been steadily growing, and we have made so many friends and connections in Niagara. Our goal has always been to spread the love for the Greek cuisine with our customers who we consider as friends and family. Money was never a motive; we like to view ourselves as ambassadors of the Greek culture and our hometown, Thessaloniki. We are one of the very few families in Niagara that come from Northern Greece, where the cuisine is heavily influenced by politiki cuisine*. Our biggest dream is that one day our sales of fasolakia, keftedakia, yogurt heaven, and yiuvetsi -normal meals that Greeks eat everyday- will surpass the sales of souvlaki and gyro, which are mostly street food items.
If you’re someone who wants to enter the food industry, our advice to you is to not hesitate. Make sure you follow all the laws, rules, and regulations, and just go for it! The local culinary scene is improving and adapting every day, and everyone is always on the hunt for new, or hidden gems. The internet is a great tool that can catapult your business to new heights. It played a tremendous role in getting Mama Tzatziki off the ground and running. The truth is, we’re still learning how to properly utilize it to its maximum, and we’re not afraid to ask for help.
Feel free to follow us on Instagram @mama_tzatziki or check out our website at mamatzatziki.com. We’d love to connect with you and hopefully cook for you one day!
*Politiki cuisine was developed for centuries by Greeks in Asia Minor who had to relocate to mainland Greece after the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922.