New Jersey’s Kontos Foods Sets the Standard

Just last month, Kontos Foods, Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of traditional Mediterranean foods, began promoting its full line of Easter appetizers and dessert items — available for restaurants, foodservice operators and retail outlets. Spanakopita, Baklava and cocktail flatbreads are the perfect solutions for the holidays, Super Bowl parties, religious Spring (Easter) and Fall (Thanksgiving & Christmas) celebrations.

This line came as no surprise to veteran industry observers because the Paterson, NJ based firm has built a long-term reputation for consistently introducing high-quality, cutting edge signature menu additions. The Kontos story reads like a traditional “only in America” scripts…  Founded in 1987 by Evis Kontos and his son Steve, Kontos Foods, Inc. is a Paterson, NJ-based provider of traditional Mediterranean foods for restaurants, hotels, food service, retail specialty stores, and supermarkets worldwide. The family-owned company specializes in hand-stretched flatbreads, including the Kontos Pocket-Less Pita®, fillo dough, pastries, olives, gyro meats, and Greek yogurt, as well as nearly 50 varieties of multi-ethnic flatbreads, most of which are hand-stretched.

“The company to this day is a tribute to the first family business started by Evris Kontos, a fillo dough company that Kontos later sold to Pillsbury,” explained Steve Kontos.

“As I traveled the country, there appeared to be a constant, and increasing, calling for an authentic “Greek” Pita.  So the obvious step for us was to create Kontos Foods, and bring that signature Greek pita bread to the rest of the country. The challenge at the time, the early 80’s, was that there were only two small bakeries in Queens that made the product and the demand far outweighed supply. So we decided to do something about it and Kontos Foods was born.

With the need to fill the nationwide demand in both foodservice and retail, Kontos Foods is credited with creating the hand-stretched Pocket-Less Pita® bread. “When we began, Greek pita had a pocket that was used to create a Gyro sandwich, typically in a diner,” Kontos noted. “We eliminated the pocket to create a patented Pocket-Less Pita®, which opened the product to a variety of other uses, from sandwiches to flatbreads, in a variety of ethnic cuisines including Indian, Persian and Pakistani.”

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In many cases, Kontos found that the product line took on a different name with each ethnic group. Indians call their flatbreads Naan. “It’s also interesting to see how every group adds a little different variety of spice to their breads. For some it’s a mix of chickpea flour, while for others it’s red chili pepper. It’s our job to listen to consumers and then create relevant solutions,” Kontos added.

Kontos Foods has seen their flatbread line evolve over time to meet the ever-expanding needs of consumer tastes and health demands. The Garden State firm subsequently added multigrain and whole grain flatbreads to the line. “We also came out with a product called Pizza Parlor Crust, and we put a little extra virgin olive oil in it to make it more crispy and softer on the edges.”

The innovative bakery concern was also at the cutting edge of the Panini revolution. “We were the first ones to have a Pre-Grilled Panini bread. We’ve even created a two-inch flatbread that became a staple of catering menus,” Kontos said.

With the continuous shift in the country’s demographics over the years, Kontos Foods has found itself at the forefront of supplying a growing Hispanic marketplace. “In cities with high Hispanic populations, in many cases we are serving independent Latino restaurateurs,” noted the firm’s marketing director Warren Stoll. “This growing trend is becoming more and more mainstream, as evidenced by the growth in Mexican restaurants, including franchises like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Moe’s Southwest Grill.”

The Kontos product line is capitalizing on its Greek roots and its part in the Mediterranean diet. “Chefs and their customers are fully aware of the Mediterranean diet; its health connotations and its translation to longevity are obviously still growing,” Stoll added.

The firm’s growth in Metro New York and throughout the Northeast has come from its ability to create and nurture partnerships with key distributors. “Restaurant Depot is probably the best thing since sliced bread for the independent operator,” Kontos added. “For us it gives the unique perspective of Clark Pager and his team an innate ability for us to get a read on what works in New York that might not work in Boston, but may be a huge success in Washington, DC. ”

Kontos has also utilized the on-going dialogue that it has created with the marketplace to expand its offerings. “In many cases, it’s a call from a Greek restaurant in Idaho who can’t get Greek caviar, a specialty size gauge of (“Taramasolata”), special olive oil or a fillo dough from their local Sysco or US Foods Distributor.

The Passaic County firm has also made a commitment to the support and training of its customer base. The Kontos team’s culinary direction is led by corporate executive chef, Chef Demetrios Haralambatos. “He’s been a world of knowledge to our brokers, salespeople and customers’ education. He likes to give the history of the flatbreads, and he’s been instrumental in developing new breads for us,” Kontos said.

Once again, as we start a new year in 2013, Kontos is looking to be on the forefront of a new trend. The company is launching a full line of French-style crepes. “In America the crepe has long been thought of as just a dessert item; while in Europe the crepe is also savory. We, therefore see it as the newest trend in sandwich making – providing great flavor and featuring under 100 calories,” Kontos noted.

Over the past couple of years, the food service industry has put a premium on the ability to source “Farm to Table” local products. With its manufacturing facility in Paterson, NJ, and a close affiliation with the Garden State’s Jersey Fresh program, local operators are able to use Kontos to achieve their goal of serving fresh local product while supporting local employment with some 200 plus jobs in Paterson.

That commitment to continuing to produce in local plants ensures the handmade quality that has been the Kontos’ signature from the very beginning and will continue to be for years to come. “There’s only one way for us to make our dough: by hand and that will never change,” Kontos concluded.