FORGET THOSE pre-packed Greek yogurt containers crowding the dairy case and show some love for Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt — the overseas-turned-local company that locals adore.
Sweet, tangy, dreamy, creamy, Ellenos is spooned out — with a free taste, first! — at a growing number of Seattle-area farmers markets, supermarket kiosks and corporate cafeterias, such as Starbucks, Nordstrom and the Gates Foundation. It’s tucked into small tubs and trucked to Tully’s coffee shops, to lucky ZIP codes via Amazon Fresh and flown overnight nationwide via www.ellenos.com.
Not bad for a company that sold its first day’s receipts — $1,200 — only a year ago.
Made with whole milk sourced from Edaleen family farm in Lynden, Whatcom County, and sporting toppers like fresh seasonal marionberries, house-made muesli (or my passion, passion fruit), this little luxury goes from cow to cup in about a week. Which may help explain why it’s the dairy equivalent of crack cocaine.
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Its roots are in Australia, where former flight attendant Yvonne Klein encountered it and declared it “the best yogurt I’ve ever tasted.”
When Klein flew for Air Canada, she and her crew would touch down in the Land of Oz, drop their bags and run to get their fix.
When her husband, Bob, flew halfway around the world to try it at the source, he agreed it was heaven on a spoon. Smitten, the pair thought: Why not persuade the Aussies to expand their product to the Emerald City?
In 2007, the Kleins put the (produce) cart before the horse and bought a Pike Place Market business, Corner Produce. Then they went begging, flying to Brisbane to ask the folks behind Australia’s generically named Greek Yoghurt Company to share the love.
“We don’t typically meet with anyone,” insists Constantinos Apostolopoulos, whose family has been selling Greek yogurt for decades. Fortuitously, his Australian business partner, another former flight attendant, took the Kleins’ call. The meeting went well, then . . . nothing.
“We kind of lost touch with them,” says Yvonne Klein. For five years. Then, says Bob, they won the lottery. “Not the million-dollar Lotto, but the half-a-billion-dollar Lotto”: Apostolopoulos finally decided to take the Kleins up on their offer.
By 2011, “We’d grown as big as we could in Australia without being a monster,” says Apostolopoulos. He saw the U.S. as a new frontier, as well as an opportunity for his son, Alex, Ellenos’ tour de sales-force.
“I’m challenge-driven,” Apostolopoulos explains. “And once the challenge is gone, I sit around twiddling my thumbs.”
He didn’t twiddle for long.
Instead, he sealed the deal and named the new business Ellenos — “Ellen” for Hellenic, “os” for Oz. The partners found warehouse space across from the old Rainier Brewing Company in Georgetown.
“We could have paid several million dollars to have someone else build this,” Apostolopoulos says, showing off their factory and spotless production room whose 100-gallon milk tank recently made way for two shining vats able to process 900 gallons of milk into the strained yogurt that has fans clamoring for more.
In just over a year, the partners have created a real family business that now boasts nearly 40 employees in all.
And a year from now? “We want to be everywhere,” Apostolopoulos says — “in a small way.”
Nancy Leson is a freelance food writer. She can be reached at email@example.com. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.