90 Years of Chicago Greeks and Candy

4 Feb

This past weekend, I travelled four hours south on a wintry day along Interstate 90 to the National Hellenic Museum located on the corner of Halsted and Van Buren in Chicago’s famous Greek Town.

I had come to see the museum’s new exhibit “American Moments: The Legacy of Greek Immigration.”  To my delight, I discovered photograph after photograph depicting Greeks working in textile mills, on the railroads, in the copper mines – and Greeks working their own produce stands, cafes, ice-cream parlors, confectioners shops, hot dog stands, import grocery stores, and of course, the suburban diner on which they left an indelible mark.

From "American Moments" exhibit, National Hellenic Museum, Courtesy Library of Congress

Greek Cafe.  Library of Congress. From “American Moments” exhibit, National Hellenic Museum.

Growing up in New Jersey, I knew about the hot dog stands, grocery stores, and diners – but I was unaware of the monopoly that Greeks held on candy stores and ice-cream parlors in early 20th century Chicago. According to a 1915 editorial published in the Salonika Greek Press: “On every great business corner in Chicago you will find the brightly lighted, clean, neat and attractive Greek confectionary store . . .almost two thirds of the confectionary business of Chicago is in the hands of the Greeks.”

One of these businesses is still serving ice-cream and hand-dipped candies today.  Margie’s Candies has been serving customers since 1921, when Peter George Poulos decided to open an ice-cream shop on the city’s north side.  The shop was renamed in 1933 when Poulos’s son George Peter married his sweetheart, Margie.  Their son, George, according to Margie’s web site,  is now learning the family business.

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Over the past 90 years, the shop has been visited by Al Capone, The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, as well as countless other Chicagoans and tourists .  So if you, like me, want to learn more about how Chicago Greeks contributed to the city’s food culture, stop by the National Hellenic Museum on the corner of Halsted and Van Buren, and then drive four miles to 1960 North Western Ave., for a memorable and very tasty history lesson.

For more on Chicago Greeks, order a copy of “Greektown Chicago: Its History and Its Recipes” by Alexa Ganakos.  And if you know of a Greek immigrant or Greek American with an important story to tell, you may want to participate in the National Hellenic Museum’s Oral History Project.  Their handbook will give you instructions on how to interview and record your friends’ and relatives’ stories for the museum’s archives.

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