Thoma the Greek: Life and Times of Thomas Douzis, Ergon Foods

INTERVIEW / 19 MAY 2016 / BY DIMITRIS PANAGIOTIDIS

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‘ERGON AGORA’ designed by Urban Soul Project. Photo by Stefanos Tsakiris.
ERGON FOODS ~ 42 Pavlou Mela Str., Thessaloniki, Greece. / ergonfoods.com

Persistent, visionary and modern with a traditional twist. Thomas Douzis, Founder and Creative Director of ERGON FOODS is an inspiring entrepreneur who can be a role model for how to get out of the recession, especially for the country’s youth. Working with his father in the Greek food business, Thomas Douzis was disappointed to discover that there was no single Greek brand that could guarantee a consistently high-quality array of products. Further, he realized Greek products were not as present on the global market as their European counterparts. Thomas set out on a mission to help people rediscover the magic of Greek gastronomy nationally and abroad. Partnering with executive chef Dimitris Skarmoutsos, previously a judge on the show Greek Master Chef, Thomas created a line of affordable-luxury restaurants that are combined with functional grocery stores. The Ergon consumer brand was created both by Thomas and his brother George. Starting with honey in 2008, they soon assembled a base of 150 local farmers and over 1,200 carefully sourced products that it distributed to small food retailers.

What is your brand’s DNA? How has it evolved since you started and how do you think it will change in the future?

ERGON’s aim is to bring a modern twist to traditional Greek products and cuisine by introducing them to the international food scenery. One of our main principals is to keep high standards and quality on anything we offer.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

The Italian cuisine, I am amazed by the fact that almost anywhere you are in the world people will eat pasta and pizza. I want the same for the Greek cuisine; I believe we have both the product and tastes to support this.

It is true, smells and flavours cover the biggest percentage of memory. Would you share with us, a unique, still vivid moment in life?

The memory of my grandfather’s grocery store in Agia Sofia’s; the smell of cheese and cold cuts; the taste of “Florina” lemonade that he served; a warmth feeling and the artistry (“meraki”) he had for the products he sold and the costumers he served. I feel these memories formed my love for great food and exceptional customer service.

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‘ERGON AGORA’ designed by Urban Soul Project. Photo by Stefanos Tsakiris.

Thomas Douzis says “With the ERGON deli restaurants, our goal is to redefine Greek recipes around the long-standing tradition of “meze” – bite-sized servings of exceptionally good food to be shared by everyone around the table.”

“In our attempt to redefine the term “traditional Greek” both aesthetically and quality-wise, we came across a dilemma: does “traditional” mean “old”? We then created contemporary products, packaging and recipes while maintaining traditional, exceptional quality. Our products are sourced from small, independent, honest producers who remain faithful to what they know best. Our product range originates from all over Greece. All products, packaged at the point of origin, have the ERGON quality approval, to ensure that traditional Greek produce meets 21st -century standards. And then, along came the deli. We chose not to recreate old-style delis from the past, but to design a new, modern space that would showcase our Greek gourmet treasures. Not necessarily “posh” but very contemporary, in a way that will continue to remain relevant in the future. We also wanted to ensure that our deli reflects the flavors, images and memories evoked by every single Greek product we stock.”

Favorite foods to cook with? I mean ingredients!

My new hobby is homemade sourdough bread, so I can say that flour and water are two ingredients I have come to admire!! It’s amazing what you can achieve with just those two ingredients.

What motivates you?

Creativity motivates me, being able to take something dated and forgotten and rebrand it to something cool and hip.

What is your idea of happiness?

Happiness is the balance between desire and achievement.

What’s the usual process when one has to convince the other about an idea or an important decision that has to be made?

We live by the great tool named “brainstorming”! Many will always think better than one, so sitting in a table and openly discussing ideas/issues is what ensures we take the best decisions.

ERGON FOODS
Yiayia and friends by beetroot+ergon. Designed by Beetroot design group / beetroot.gr

ERGON partnered with internationally acclaimed, Greek-based, communication design experts Beetroot, in designing a line of fine food products, tools and objects. The result is “YIAYIA & friends”, a multifaceted gastronomy-related project that reimagines and re-introduces, superior quality food products, culinary objects and epicurean artefacts of yesteryear. At the heart of the design project “Yiayia” (“granny” in Greek) is glorified in a key-storyline as the super-powerful, all-knowing but also discreet person that she is. Together with her “friends” from both the human and animal kingdom the arts of growing, cooking and sharing food together, along with everything that is attached to it, is remembered, re-introduced, and re-imagined for generations to come. The solid-colored, closed-shape, vibrant-colored characters, share the same “eyes” –that is a visual element doubling as a “silent logo” across the project– and interlock with each other and their environment in a visual representation of the connection of mankind with nature, agriculture, produce and creation. This, is a story about YIAYIA…

At some point of our younger lives, we imagined ourselves setting goals, for a better tomorrow. Have you fulfilled your dreams?

Goal setting is an ongoing process, when you achieve something there is always something new you want to achieve next. Dreaming and working to make these dreams reality is what makes me want to wake up in the morning.

How do you define success? What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success” said Henry Ford. Success is building a network of trustworthy and self-motivated employees. A company is its employees; so any success in terms of revenues/growth comes from that human power. I would say that the ERGON’s journey has so far taught me how to locate and promote such people.

Suppose you were hosting this coming Saturday night. And you could invite anyone you wanted. Dead or alive.

Which four would you invite to come over and why?

Steve Jobs; need I say more?