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Varsos: Enjoy the Best Traditional Flavors in Kifissia, Athens

If you happen to pass by this sweetshop/café on December 31st, you will hardly be able to
get in the door. Such are the crowds jostling to get their traditional vasilopita or New Year’s
cake, this normally decorous landmark shop resembles a bargain basement on Black Friday.

Vasilopites are just one of the literally hundreds of products handmade in the shop’s
basement kitchen, some daily like the spinach and cheese pies, tsourekia (brioche-like
loaves), Anatolian pastries, yogurts, rice puddings, mille feuilles, and meringues. But these
are just the tip of the iceberg and not even the Varsos family can tell you exactly how many
there are. If you limited yourself to one treat a day, it would take you the better part of a
year to sample them all.

And where would you start? With the traditional Greek diples—fried pastry sheets, dripping
with honey, piled in a glass cabinet near the entrance—jams and fruit syrups clustered on
one counter, Danish pastries, eclairs, babas au rhum, profiteroles, etc etc under glass on the
counter opposite. Would you head for the smaller displays at the back, with glazed fruits
and chocolates (47 different trays), three long shelves of cookies, palmiers, marrons glacés,
pralines, petits fours, macaroons. . . or would you hover around the center island where the
meringues sit in various shapes and sizes?

No matter what you chose, you would be sure of one thing: the quality would be superb. As
Antony Varsos, great-grandson of the founder, told me, “Most of our products are still made
from just five ingredients: flour, sugar, milk, eggs, and butter. We don’t use artificial
additives or preservatives. And besides, our sweets don’t need preservatives. After so many
years in the business, we know almost to the last custard or tsoureki what our customers
want, so everything is always fresh and there’s very little waste.”

Indeed, the history of Varsos goes back to 1892, when two brothers from a family of
shepherds in Central Greece opened a shop selling milk, yogurt, and cheese in Central
Athens. Thirty years later, “when the shop’s floor collapsed,” they moved to Kifissia, where
the shop still stands, unchanged since the early 60s. Gradually, they expanded their
offerings, catering to the wealthy families that spent the summers in this tree-filled suburb.

As the decades passed, and the grandsons Vassilis and Giorgos took over, they made a
conscious decision to keep the 60s look—embellished with period photos and equipment,
banking on the nostalgia factor. So many generations of Athenians have spent so much time
here from an early age and into old age, taking comfort in the fact that some things don’t
change. Both the décor and the tastes can keep memories alive and create new ones, too.

An institution that has just entered its 132nd year is obviously doing something right. As
Antony Varsos told me, “Finally it’s all about family. Our family wants to stay true to the
families that have supported us all these years.”

– Diana Farr Louis 

Directed by Mihalis Dimitriou

Mihalis Dimitriou holds a dual US and Greek nationality. He has received a master’s degree with a specialization in acting and directing, and Magister Artium in theatrical studies from the Open University of Cyprus where he graduated with honors in 2019. He received a B.A. in film studies from the University of Greenwich, also with honors, as well as a Certificate in Film & Television Studies from New York College, Athens Campus.

He is involved in the development and production of films, documentaries, TV series, commercials, and music videos. In 2019, he wrote, directed, and co-produced with the Greek Film Centre (GFC) the short film “Cloud” which won the first audience award at the Micro μ Festival (IMμF), was presented at the 42nd Short Film Festival, the 25th International Short Film Festival in Drama in September 2019, the “Athens International Film Festival”, and won the Cinematic Achievement from Thess International Short Film Festival.

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