It was a celebration of good food, friendship, business relationships, community outreach, Greek culture, and joyful life for the Greek American community at the 39th annual charity gala of the Pan Gregorian Enterprises Inc. (PGEI), which was held at the Venetian Ballroom, in Garfield, earlier this month.
Founded in 1983 by George Manolios and John Kallas, Pan Gregorian Enterprises serves the business needs of independently owned diners and restaurants. The cooperative originally focused on Greek-owned businesses in New Jersey. Over time, it has expanded to include members in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The organization’s leadership hopes to soon welcome New England restaurant and diner entrepreneurs as well.
Nicholas Kallas, chairman of PGEI and the charity gala, and owner/operator of the popular Broad Street Diner in Keyport, along with his wife Maria Kallas, welcomed more than 600 attendees to the event. The two are pictured below.
Addressing the audience, Kallas said, “Through the past 39 years, your collective efforts have helped the PGEI of America’s charitable foundation to successfully contribute over $2.5 million to those less fortunate. Your efforts have helped ease hunger, disease, and those who have suffered through natural disasters. The driving force of philanthropy is your desire to make a difference.”
He continued, “Over the past 40 years, this organization has not only made immense strides in the
world of the restaurant business, but has also become a beacon of hope, unity,
strength and support for the Greek community.”
Organizations of Note
According to the gala’s program notes, the PGEI’s charitable foundation has donated to many organizations over the years. The organization has placed emphasis on helping those that address the suffering of children, such as:
- Hackensack University Medical Center
- The World Trade Center Relief Fund (victims of 9/11)
- The Deborah Heart & Lung Center
- The Greek Children’s Fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
- Ronald McDonald House
- Rutgers University
- The Hellenic Relief Foundation
- The Cyprus Children’s Fund
- The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Foundation
His Eminence, Metropolitan Apostolos of New Jersey, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, based in New York City, provided the invocation at the start of the event. In addition to the many award presentations and speeches, the spirit of the gathering was highlighted by glorious food prepared and served by the Venetian chefs and wait staff, along with beautiful, rhythmic Greek music.
As dancers formed a giant circle, gliding along to the sound of the eight-string bouzouki, members of the PGEI staff showered the ballroom floor with thousands of dollar bills, which eventually were swept up and given to band members.
A Meal to Remember
The world-class appetizer course was one of the greatest collections of delicacies in the history of Western civilization. An endless array of seafood, meats, pasta, cold salads, and sushi graced the serving tables. For the evening’s main course, filet mignon and halibut were meals of choice. The entree was followed by a spectacular collection of goodies at the Viennese dessert buffet. This included fresh berries, cakes, pies pastries, chocolate covered bananas, and chocolate mousse. All told, the evening was a royal feast for the eyes, stomach, heart, and spirit.
As for its business mission, the PGEI assists “the independent restaurant/diner owner by negotiating the lowest cost and ensuring the highest quality of food served and supplies used by its members,” as stated in the gala’s program booklet. “The PGEI is helping the independent operator by lowering costs and increasing profits through direct negotiations as a combined force with (food) suppliers and manufacturers.”
Such cooperative support has become more important than ever as today many Greek-owned diners, restaurants, and luncheonettes have struggled or succumbed to the financial pressures brought on by the COVID years and the pandemic’s aftermath.
As reported here in early October, recent diner closings have created much worry among New Jersey’s foodie faithful.
The PGEI, based at 629 Springfield Road in Kenilworth, is comprised of 320 stockholders and 800 associate members. As posted on its website, through the power of its membership numbers, the PGEI provides bargaining power and savings by doing business with an approved list of food vendors and service providers.