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By Rena Malai
A specialty food shop in Manassas elevates the concept of eating and shopping. At Taste of Old Country, whether folks come in to shop, dine or both, chances are they will have a unique experience.
Owner Elias Zarkadoulas opened Taste of Old Country in June 2019, after circulating his specialty olive oils and flavored vinegars at home and garden shows, farmers markets and food events. He kept receiving requests from customers about where they could find his products, so Zarkadoulas figured a brick-and-mortar establishment would be a great way forward.
“There is no place here in Prince William like Taste of Old Country,” Zarkadoulas said. “We are a very unique artisan food shop and bistro with a European and Mediterranean inspired influence.”
Zarkadoulas’ parents emigrated to the United States from Greece, and he grew up close to Prince William. Always an entrepreneur at heart, Zarkadoulas decided to jump into the food business after a long-standing corporate career. He’s passionate about bringing quality specialty food items to the Prince William community through Taste of Old Country.
True foodies and gourmands will appreciate what they find when they walk into Taste of Old Country. Award-winning olive oils, arrays of balsamic vinegars, specialty wines, honeys, teas and side, made-to-order Mediterranean-inspired paninis, sandwiches, salads and small plates are offered. Most of what customers order and enjoy from the bistro is also readily available for purchase, which is a nice option, says Zarkadoulas.
“If someone eats something in a restaurant that they like, they may not be able to buy a jar of it to take home,” he said. “But here, they most likely will be able to do that.”
One of the most popular items, and something Zarkadoulas recommends, is the Mediterranean-inspired charcuterie board, which includes cured Italian and Spanish meats, stuffed grape leaves, savory pastries, and, of course, a variety of oils and vinegars on the side.
He says it’s also a great place for the community to congregate to share Taste of Old Country’s signature small plates and a glass of wine.
Novices to artisan food needn’t worry, because Zarkadoulas says there’s something for everyone here.
“Everyone can truly appreciate a good quality olive oil and I promise if you try it, you’ll go back to it,” he said. “Staff are readily available to answer any questions, and we have a range of products to accompany all palates and tastes.”
During the pandemic, several businesses were forced to close their doors, but Taste of Old Country was not one of them. This is largely because it was deemed essential due to the sale of its oil and vinegar products.
“We were considered part of the essential food program, because of the specialty oils and vinegars we have, so we stayed open all throughout the pandemic,” Zarkadoulas said. “We were able to place online orders, do curbside pickup, and offer grab and go for our prepared foods.”
Although he did stay open, the business certainly struggled without people being able to freely come in, Zarkadoulas said. But he sees things going back to more in-person shopping and events, and he has had multiple inquiries about catering and hosting which has been a positive uptick.
“The in-person experience is starting to come back and we’ve been getting more foot traffic, more people coming in to have something to eat or drink,” Zarkadoulas said. “People are getting out and experiencing life more outside the home. It’s starting to show signs of how it was pre-Covid.”
Moving forward Zarkadoulas sees expanding the shop to include a bigger eating area and maybe even a space for live music. “We definitely plan to grow and combine a very unique music experience along with a unique artisan experience,” he said.”
But for now, Prince William diners and shoppers can enjoy what Taste of Old Country will always offer — great Mediterranean-inspired food, specialty artisan products for the home and the ability to hand pour premium virgin olive oil to take home.
“We have a lot of things to offer on both the bistro side and the shop side,” Zarkadoulas said. “We hope you come in to see for yourself.”
For folks interested in dining in-house at Taste of Old Country, reservations are recommended as seating space is limited. Taste of Old Country is located at 10427 Balls Ford in Manassas. Hours of operation for shopping and dining are Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Visit Taste of Old Country online at tasteofoldcountry.com. For information on catering and event hosting, call 571-359-8297.
Rena Malai is a freelance writer and journalist. She has covered a variety of topics from food to politics to technology. She lives in Prince William and is a native Washingtonian.