GLADSTONE PARK – Ioannis Tasopoulos came to the United States from his native Greece eight years ago with just $1,000 in his pocket and the dream of opening his own bakery.
Tasopoulos soon landed a job as a pastry chef and started a side hustle making custom cakes for extra cash. Its Greek pastries – and especially its decadent cakes – were a hit. Soon he had a following – so much so that he won awards for his pastries and confectionary artistry.
This weekend, the 34-year-old pastry chef will open Zymi Bakery at 5806 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tasopoulos said he was excited and slightly nervous to see his vision unfold, promoting his Greek culture and hospitality to his neighbors in the far northwest.
“I want to give people back through my knowledge and the flavors I’ve taken from my family and my home,” Tasopoulos said. “I was raised by my grandmother and my mother, so I want to bring in my clients.”
Tasopoulos grew up cooking and baking with his family in Greece and remembers being in the kitchen from the age of 7. Coming from a family that owns two bakeries in Filiatra, Greece, it was only natural for Tasopoulos to study as a pastry chef in college. .
“I was always in the kitchen with my mom, so it’s all about memories. Food is about memories and flavors,” he said.
Less than a year after settling in the far northwest, Tasopoulos got a job as a pastry chef at Fresh Farms International Market in the suburb of Niles, working 15-hour days.
At the same time, Tasopoulos returns to school to perfect his art. He studied at Wilton School of Cake Decorating & Confectionery Art in Darien and Nicholas Lodge School of Cake Decorating in Atlanta, Georgia.
Tasopoulos has won back-to-back Gold Medals from Greek Taste Beyond Borders as the Official Greek Gastronomy Ambassador for 2020 and 2021. He is also a Chicago Ambassador at Georges Grunenwald, President of Best of Gastronomie and was named Pastry Chef of the year 2021 at Estiatoria.gr’s Golden Awards, a competition celebrating Greek culture through food.
Last year, Tasopoulos added another title to his belt and was named a Certified Pastry Chef by the World Association of Chefs’ Society.
“I started from zero when I got here, and I’ve done this in eight years without any help,” he said.
Zymi, which means “dough” in Greek, occupies space at Kazik Bakery, which has moved to Norridge. Tasopoulos knew the owner and decided to take over the space last April, although city inspections and licensing delayed its opening.
The location is ideal as it is close to the highway, the local Greek community and Tasopoulos’ house, he said. Its spacious back room gives the chef the ability to cook in large quantities, which comes in handy as it supplies desserts to downtown and suburban restaurants.
The bakery will serve a plethora of traditional Greek pastries like baklava; galaktoboureko, or Greek cream pie; paximadia cookies and European-style cakes, which contain a lot of cream and contain less sugar than American pastry, Tasopoulos said. People can also get their hands on traditional Greek pies and American sweets like red velvet muffins and chocolate truffles.
With nearly two decades of experience, Tasopoulos is ready to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation. Nikolaos Chondroginnis, a Zymi employee also from Greece, helped Tasopoulos prepare hundreds of sweets before the opening.
The two met through the local Greek community and quickly developed a brotherly relationship, which makes working at Zymi feel less like a job and more like a fun learning experience, Chondroginnis said.
“I went to school to cook [in Greece,] but I want to know more about cakes,” Chondroginnis said. “It’s not just about cooking; it is about art. Cake is all about art – you combine cooking and art together and you have a cake.
As Tasopoulos expands his staff with four or five other workers, he hopes people can learn in a fun environment that makes them happy – while incorporating that energy into the desserts for sale.
Zymi Bakery will open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. It will be open every day except Sunday so Tasopoulos can catch up on sleep, he said with a smile.
Tasopoulos is planning a grand opening celebration at the end of the month. The owner was going to wait until then to open the bakery, but decided he couldn’t wait any longer after receiving enthusiastic messages from people who wanted his baked goods.
“We open the doors to the public on Saturday because people ask me every day, ‘When are you going to open?’ … then I have to open the door,” he said.
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