Even when it existed only as a virtual shop, Yoleni’s scope and personality was large, presenting since then the cream of the crop in traditional products from around the country.
Now with quick sales to anywhere in the world and a noteworthy presence in the US market, as well as a four-storey ‘flagship store’ in Kolonaki, Yoleni’s is delighting Athenians and foreign visitors in multi-dimensional and highly tasteful ways
Where to begin? With the handmade pittas that are tailor-made in front of you in an oven with one of 14 fillings of your choice, plenty of other delicious Greek and Mediterranean dishes or freshly squeezed health juices to be savoured in an urban garden setting awash with natural lighting?
That’s just the ground floor. One floor down, you’ll find a foodie fantasyland, with aisle after aisle of (over 1,500) pure, top quality Greek products in canned, dried, refrigerated, frozen and fresh forms. There’s a cheese counter and a cold cuts counter, neo-gourmet Greek creations by small producers with big ideas, like mushroom chutney, snail pasta, truffle oils and jewel-like fleur de sel gathered from a tiny Cycladic island, and choice classic products like firm, juicy capers in all sizes and humidity-raised Santorini tomatoes to red saffron, in enough varieties to seduce even the most discerning chef.
In fact, apart from being shipped to over 21 countries (the store boasts that delivery takes no longer than 36 hours) in gift baskets or parcels, numerous chefs in Greece and abroad source their products from here, including Greek bottarga for sushi restaurants. Then there are the books, gift items like culinary tools to enhance the Greek cooking experience and regional natural cosmetics made with pure, organic ingredients. Basically if you like shopping and have a knack for experimenting with sensory delights, you’ll need a basket and plenty of discipline. And go to this floor last so you don’t have to carry your shopping to the other four floors.
Stepping onto the escalator past the ground floor you rise further into Yoleni’s vast vision – there’s a steakbar / meat restaurant and shop with meats such as Angus beef from the Bralou Farm that customers can point to and sit down to eat, after it’s cooked for them there and then. After that, a floor dedicated to wine tasting and pairing that can be arranged for private events for two to more people – customers can try the wines selected for them or choose a theme, such as wines from a certain region or of a certain variety.
The flagship store also takes its self-appointed role of educating Greek and foreign customers alike on the merits and potential of Greek products very seriously too – it has a floor that is separated in two areas, one dedicated to cooking classes, which take place every few days and led by chef Dina Nikolaou (although it can be booked by other chefs for private events too) and are themed according to the period (eg. Easter time) and seasonal produce. The website meanwhile, features a variety of video recipes featuring their certified products, all of which, I am assured, are tasted, cooked with and sampled by a team that includes chefs and nutritionists. The other area is the Gaea Olive Oil Bar which offers daily classes on the history, culture and production methods of olive oil and includes a tasting session, with or without the addition of a food and wine experience attached.
The final floor can be booked for events that include talks, screenings and dining. Meanwhile, parents looking for some respite from their duties in order to have a business drink or attend a meal or lesson have the option of dropping off their child at the store’s ‘Yolenini’ creche, which includes meals and can be booked for children’s parties.
Impressive in how it is managing to achieve excitingly evolutionary, vibrantly professional and successful results both online and now in its flagship store, which is constantly busy with local and foreign visitors, Yoleni’s is a beacon of hope for a dynamic new Athenian business approach. After winning the Greek Entrepreneurship Award in 2015 the business made its move into the US market, and selling abroad remains a huge priority for the owners, but the main concept behing the physical store is to root the public’s understanding of Yoleni’s through a pronounced sensory experience.
For many Athenians who acknowledge and celebrate high quality, this is a great example of what they were waiting for, and sets the bar for the city’s food standards and beyond.