Author, Ann Flesor Beck of Sweet Greeks: First-Generation Immigrant Confectioners in the Heartland, answers questions about her family influences, purpose for writing and myths she hopes to dispel about first-generation Greeks.
Why did you decide to write this book?
The request came from Bruce Kraig, editor of the series. He had read my dissertation and thought it would be a good fit as food history in America. We kicked around a couple of approaches and landed on basically following the outline of my original research. Happily, I had the opportunity to fine tune my original research and touch base with second generation Greek Americans to corroborate their stories. Along the way, I also met some third generation Greek Americans from central Illinois and they were so happy to share more stories and great photos. It was a rewarding project on so many levels.
Who were your biggest influences?
Obviously my biggest influence was my grandfather, Gus Flesor. His story threads through the entire narrative and illuminates the Greek immigrant story, particularly those Greeks who migrated to small towns across the country.
What is the most interesting discovery you made while researching the book?
The most interesting discovery was the proliferation of first generation Greek immigrant confectioners in just about every small town, not only in central Illinois, but across the country. It seemed that every town had one or more Greek male (or family) who had immigrated to America, passed through a large urban portal like New York or Chicago, and wound up in small towns to open a confectionery, soda fountain, and ultimately some sort of food enterprise as well. They were everywhere! and that rural narrative had not been widely archived.
What myths do you hope your book will dispel or what do you hope your book will help readers unlearn?
First, since there is the stereotypical attribute that most Greeks run restaurants, the first generation Greeks were NOT confectioners or restauranteurs in Greece. They were poor farmers barely eking out a living on small parcels of land. Coming to America, making candy and even moving into food were businesses they learned when they got here. I am often asked at our own confectionery/restaurant what candy my grandfather made in Greece, and the answer is always,” None; he learned when he came to Tuscola, Illinois, from another Greek who went to school and taught his countrymen how to do it.”
The second myth is that thousands of Greeks left urban areas to make their fortunes in small town America. They faced many challenges. Some returned to Greece, but many stayed and became successful entrepreneurs.
What is the most important idea you hope readers will take away from your book?
The significant contribution first generation Greek immigrants made to American food history. Within one generation of arriving in this country, they became part of the Main Street business with their corner confectioneries.
What do you like to read/watch/or listen to for fun?
I am a pretty eclectic reader and enjoy history, mysteries, and poetry. PBS is my favorite television station, and that should tell you much about the types of programs I watch. Classical music is my favorite, but I must admit to banging out Jimi Hendrix on my drive up and down the country roads on my way to and from our candy store/restaurant. Or the Rolling Stones.