By Jill Draper
When Kathy Skinos-Smith was studying business at Avila University in the early 1980s, she helped her parents, John and Georgia Skinos, develop a successful restaurant at Wornall Road and 102nd Street. Called Georgia’s Greek Restaurant, it operated for 15 years at the spot where QuikTrip now stands. Skinos-Smith managed the front end and handled the accounting for five years until she earned her degree.
“My mom was a great cook. Her food was amazing,” she remembers. Now Skinos-Smith uses the same family recipes to run her own business under the label Katina’s Greek Café. Her specialties are handmade Greek appetizers and baklava sold in the frozen food section at Hen House grocery stores and Cosentino’s Market in Brookside. Stacked near the Italian foods or frozen pizza, her packaged trays of spanakopita, tiropita and baklava are perfect for special party appetizers, fun snacks or side dishes at dinner, she says.
These same items can be shipped nationwide through her website, which also offers gourmet items imported from Greece: organic premium extra-virgin olive oil and Kalamata olives, aged balsamic vinegar made with Agiorgitiko grapes, pine and thyme-blossom honey, and robust dried oregano.
Her parents emigrated from the Corinth area of Greece after WWII, and were in their 50s when they opened Georgia’s. Skinos-Smith was younger when she started her business in 1999, achieving a lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur by age 40. At peak production, she sold pallets of savory and sweet pastries from fall through Mother’s Day at Dean & DeLuca’s upscale grocery chain, and was written up in the New York Times as well as touted on Oprah’s website.
At one point she used the 135th Street Hen House deli kitchen at night, delivering thank-you gifts of baklava to grocery visionary Fred Ball at Christmas. As chairman of Balls Food Stores, which include Hen House and Price Chopper, he appreciated innovators, she says. “He wanted to provide a marketplace that sold unusual things.”
Later she rented a commercial kitchen in Merriam. When Dean & DeLuca shut down in 2019, she switched to a friend’s commercial bakery in Overland Park.
Her phyllo dough pastries bake straight from the freezer into golden-brown flaky triangles filled with combinations of feta and other cheeses, spinach, green onions and fresh herbs like parsley and dill. Additional options include Kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and lemon and capers. Her honey-soaked baklava, layered with chopped walnuts, thaws ready to eat in 30 minutes. A six-piece appetizer tray sells locally for $6.99; a six-piece baklava tray, $10.99.
“It’s been a really exciting journey to develop this,” says Skinos-Smith, who previously worked at Cerner Corp., Hallmark Cards and Halls Kansas City. “I’ve dabbled in so many things that now I’m focusing on my original love—cooking and entertaining.”
Born in the United States, Skinos-Smith learned to speak Greek from her parents, a helpful skill when she travels overseas to source products and check on the olive harvest. “The best olive oil is in Greece,” she says. “It’s all about when you pick the olives.” The flavors of Greece are becoming more popular as people learn about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, she believes, adding, “The ocean climate creates the purity of these products.”
The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on Wornall Road is an important part of her life. She was baptized and married there, and helps with the annual Greek festival. She recently took charge of the bake sale and belongs to a women’s group that raises funds for charities.
Skinos-Smith has given cooking classes at the Culinary Center of Kansas City, and plans to offer hands-on classes in her own kitchen in 2023. She’s also working on a cookbook. The hardest thing now is prioritizing.
“I wish I was 20 years younger. Your energy level changes,” she says.
The home office of Skinos-Smith, who lives just across the state line in Leawood, contains a painting of her late mother. The two look much alike. Nearby is a framed newspaper clipping that details how her mom was kidnapped in 1997 when a thief climbed into a car Skinos-Smith left running while doing an errand.
“Get a job!” her mother yelled at him from the passenger seat, threatening to wallop him with her cane. When she refused to get out, she was dumped on the side of the road near Nall and 435. A school bus later picked her up, uninjured.
“She was very colorful,” remembers Skinos-Smith, who says her mother was thrilled when she started her business based on heritage Greek recipes.
“She’s probably looking down at me and very happy that I developed it.”