The Las Vegas Greek Food Festival, hosted annually by St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, is scheduled to celebrate its 40th anniversary Friday through Sunday.
Organizers anticipate a crowd of more than 25,000 to show up and purchase more than 10,000 gyros and 15,000 dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves, over the course of the event.
"We’ve been gradually refining the event over the years," said Gus Flangas, chairman of the festival and a member of the church. "We’ve become, I think, one of the premier events in Las Vegas."
He said the church has made only slight modifications over the decades to improve the quality of service but has not changed the overall formula.
"People know what to expect every year, and that’s why we attract so many people year after year," he said. "The first person to enter on Friday, to the last person to leave on Sunday – everyone should have the same experience."
Flangas is considered somewhat of an expert on the festival after serving as the event’s chairman the last three years. He began volunteering at the festival when he was 13.
"I would help clean up and wash dishes," he said. "I enjoy being a part of it every year."
The festival began in 1972 under the direction of Janelle Salon, then the president of the local chapter of the Ladies’ Philoptochos Society.
"My family is from the Bay Area," Salon said. "I was visiting one year and went to see one of the festivals up there."
Salon said she thought the festival idea would be perfect for St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, which had traditionally offered dinner dances as a primary fundraiser.
The first two years, the festival hosted approximately 3,000 people at the now-demolished Stardust Convention Hall.
"We raised more than $10,000 for the church that first year," Salon said. "We were happy as clams … I just broke down in tears, I was so excited."
She said she and the other 70 volunteers used neighbors’ ovens to prepare the food and borrowed vans to drive it all to the hotel.
According to Flangas, this year’s festival boasts nearly 400 volunteers and has long since become the church’s primary fundraising event.
"We’re there to make money for the church," Flangas said. "But we’re also there to showcase our Greek culture."
He added that with approximately 10,000 Greeks living in the valley, the festival is an important part of the church’s role in the community.
"It’s our most important showcase," he said. "It’s a great opportunity for the church and the city to come together."
Admission is $7 for adults. It is free for children 12 or younger. It is also free for active-duty military and their immediate families. Parking is free but limited near the church. Free shuttles are offered.
Both tickets and pastries can be pre-ordered on the festival website at lasvegasgreekfestival.com.
The festival is scheduled to run from 3 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 10 p.m. Sunday at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 5300 S. El Camino Road.
For more information, call 221-8245 or visit lasvegasgreekfestival.com.
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at email@example.com or 383-0492.