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Great food goes Greek: Heritage celebrated at Winchester festival

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Pat Bacuros, left, serves baklava to sisters, Claire, 7, Kate, 13, and Emily Snyder, 15, of Berryville, during the Greek Festival held in Winchester on Saturday. Andrew Thayer/Daily

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Iraeta Santos shaves off some meat made from beef, lamb and spices to make gyros. Andrew Thayer/Daily

By Preston Knight-pknight@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- One of the few guarantees in life can be found at the Winchester Greek Festival -- come hungry, leave happy.

While the event has its variety of attractions as any festival does, including Greek music and children's activities, it's the food that had people coming on Saturday.

"Some of the best cooks in the country are here," organizer George Sempeles said. "You just can't beat that."

The Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church, on Amherst Street, hosts the festival. It's been in existence for at least 40 years, and now serves as the largest fundraiser to help pay for a full-time priest, Sempeles said. The good thing for him, there are a lot of hungry mouths to feed.

George and Marion Schottelkorb, of Winchester, were making their first appearance at the festival, encouraged by friends to attend. They already knew what to expect, however -- they took a vacation to Greece a few years ago and visited Athens, the islands and more.

"Great people, the food was wonderful, and the beer's great," Schottelkorb said. "We just loved it. We had some amazing experiences."

Visitors to the festival had their choice of Greek beer and wine to wash down the many food offerings, including gyros, kebabs, baklava and Greek salad. At its peak, the event will serve 1,400 gyros, said Angie Hutchinson, who helps in the preparation of the food.

"That's a lot of sandwiches," she said.

Cit resident Erin Keller and her son, Jacob, 10, helped to bite a chunk out of that large number.

"We come for the food every year," she said, singling out a gyro and souvlaki (the kebabs) as the usual purchase.

Hutchinson said there are a group of about 15 "usual suspects," including members of Sempeles' family, who work hard to prepare the food each year. People can't help but come back for more, she said, and since a live band from Baltimore was added to the festival, the atmosphere has gotten better.

"The food and the music," Stephens City resident Mary Jeter said is what brought her and her husband, Paul. "And the wine helps."

She said she dragged her husband to the festival last year, and he counters that he actually volunteered to attend. Either way, both were enjoying their time Saturday, and there was certainly no force-feeding of the food, though at one point they didn't know what they were eating.

"Americans have yard parties," Jeter said. "Greeks have the festival."

Sempeles said residents are still learning how tasty Greek food is, even though the festival has grown since its inception. At least one thing seems to be certain -- there are no shortage of return customers who come hungry and leave happily full.

"The local people like good, authentic Greek food," Sempeles said.

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