Katerina Georgallas founded Baklava Couture in Washington, D.C., to make her Greek pastry the way she felt it ought to be: bursting with rich, often unexpected flavors, like rosemary dark chocolate and fig and candied garlic.
Georgallas started the company in 2010, after she was laid off from her job as an interior designer. Experimenting with her family’s traditional recipes, she began making baklava as it was made centuries ago, with olive oil instead of butter, as well as with herbs from her garden, such as lavender and rosemary. She soon expanded into unusual combinations (like basil and smoked salt) and seasonal specialties (like spiced apple).
She set up shop at regional farmers’ markets, from the suburbs of Maryland to downtown D.C., where shoppers are enthusiastic about quality foods and love to nibble samples as they stroll.
“I’m inspired by the markets, so I take on whatever fresh berries or other fruits are available,” she says. The markets also serve as her storefront. “The overhead is so low. Baklava is not cheap to make. Right now, I can afford to spend what I need to on ingredients and sell at these markets.”
Her approach is paying off. She says her sales have increased 400 percent, from an average of 250 pieces of baklava per week in 2012 to 1,000 pieces a week so far in 2013. Her success has prompted her to expand her menu to offer Greek cookies and cakes, look for a bricks-and-mortar location, and start selling wholesale, too.
Georgallas reaches her target demographic by selling in a location where they already congregate and offering a distinct, indulgent experience. “A big portion of my clientele are people who are a little older, wiser, more sophisticated,” she says. “They have money, they’re looking to put something on their dessert table aside from the usual.”
Georgallas customizes her wares to meet the needs and desires of shoppers in each location, too: She takes only grab-and-go (individually wrapped) baklava to bustling downtown markets and offers a wider selection, including cakes and custards, at the more leisurely suburban locations.
Her advice to other entrepreneurs is to start small and proceed carefully, as she has done. She expanded sales of her baked goods into one new market at a time, until the business grew big and strong enough to warrant a retail store. She aims to start the process of securing a brick-and-mortar location next year.
Not that she’s in a rush. “Let it grow organically,” she says. “Slow and steady is the best advice.”