Running Low: U.S. Grocers' Supplies Of Greek Olives And Feta
WADE GOODWYN, HOST:
If you think the Greek financial crisis is just a European problem, you clearly haven't spent any time at Titan Foods in Astoria, Queens.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Greek).
GOODWYN: Titan Foods is one of many Greek import companies and grocery stores in Astoria, also known as Little Athens. These shops have been doing well in recent years, thanks in part to the popularity of the Mediterranean diet.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Two cheese pies.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, one.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: One?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Greek).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Greek).
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Spanakopita.
GOODWYN: This shop carries many of the country's regional specialties, with vats of practically every kind of Greek olive and blocks of feta cheese. But Titan Foods is running low on stocks. Shipments have slowed to a crawl. Both importers and exporters now think twice before they do business. We reached out to Costas Mastoras, the owner of Titan Foods. I asked him how he's coping with the uncertainty.
COSTAS MASTORAS: For the last two weeks, basically, we've been in - into uncharted waters. It's a situation that I've never faced before in my 30-years career. Banks are closed. My suppliers do not have access into cash. We are dealing with many, many small producers, growers of olives that - we have to pay these people. When in most cases, these people don't even have accounts. We can't e-bank them the funds. It's a big problem for us.
GOODWYN: So what percentage of your previous business are you still doing?
MASTORAS: Very little to none. For the last two weeks, we haven't been able to make any shipments from Greece. You have to understand that Greece - 72 percent of our goods are imported from Europe. Greece is not a producing country. The only thing we produce is the sun, the islands and tourism. So in most cases, you don't have - we don't have access to raw materials. Bottles are imported from Italy. Labels, plastic containers come from Europe. Even if my supply wants to give me the order, he has lack of raw materials, so that's another big problem. Also, a very big problem is that trust has been lost between the traders. Nobody trust nobody; nobody makes payment to nobody, and as we understand the situation, it's very, very hard to do trade.
GOODWYN: So I've heard stories of, you know, Greek merchants who were filling up suitcases with money and getting on airplanes in order to try to facilitate their business. What are you doing?
MASTORAS: We're trying to get as innovative as we can think in order to keep doing what we're doing for the last 30 years. My best suppliers, they gave me accounts in Cyprus because basically, they don't want their money to get trapped within the Greek banking system. Some of the people have to go physically in Cyprus or Bulgaria. And they'll go in a day, physically pick up the cash, come back to Greece to make payments. It's dangerous, as you understand, and it's very risky, but there's no other way, unfortunately.
GOODWYN: Have you lost any customers long-term, or it will be OK?
MASTORAS: We're very cautious about the orders. If we get a huge order with - I mean, if somebody gives me five pallets of these, we send them one pallet, and we tell them next week we see. This has to keep us going, you know?
GOODWYN: Mr. Mastoras, are you optimistic about the Greek economy going forward?
MASTORAS: Optimistic is not the word. All I'm hoping right now is to avoid the iceberg. Unfortunately, the Greek government for the last five years, they didn't take the reforms that they should've taken. The Greek people now understand that the old days, the party days is over. Expenditure cuts must come; austerity measurements must be applied in order to put our house back in order.
GOODWYN: Costas Mastoras, owner of Titan Foods. He spoke to us from Astoria, Queens. Mr. Mastoras, thank you very much.
MASTORAS: Thank you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.