Kleos is the ancient Greek term that means, “fame or glory attained through good deeds and hard work.” This is what the heroes in ancient Greek tragedy were striving for. But Kleos also captures the essence of the product, Kleos Masticha spirit, and the passion behind the process of its maker, Effie Panagatopoulos, entrepreneur extraordinaire. She is the first Greek woman in history to start a liquor brand from scratch. For Panagatopoulos, it has been a labor of love almost a decade in the making. But since last summer since launching in posh lounges on Mykonos, Kleos the masticha liquor is bound to be Greece’s first luxury spirit brand and the world’s first super premium mastiha spirit.
The Process Behind the Passion
The story of its maker to bring it to life scintillates with the great Hellenic values: meraki, philotimo, pursuit of excellence, and drive. Yes, plenty of drive. The story starts with Panagatopoulos’ involvement as the National Brand Ambassador and sole distributor of Metaxa brand in the US. She has had 15 years of experience in the liquor industry having worked for Bacardi. Her work takes her to Mykonos for the summer of 2008. While sipping drinks at Nammas, her friend music producer Easy Coutiel, hands her a tumbler of mastiha cocktail and says, “This is what you should introduce to America.”
“That first sip,” she explains, “sparked a love affair with mastiha that would end with Kleos as the next big global spirit product.”
She did plenty of homework. She concocted 17 different formulas from six different distilleries and 20 different cocktail mixes for the product.
She put together an advisory group of celebrity mixologists and chefs including Michael Psilakis, MP Taverna chef who incidentally introduced mastiha as an ingredient on Iron Chef, 2010; Allan Katz, portfolio mixologist of Southern Wine and Spirits, and Joaquin Simo, head bartender of Death and Co, the first bar in NY to introduce mastiha.
She organized taste tests with American audiences. (Amazingly, 9 out of 10 Americans hated ouzo yet the same ratio loved mastiha).
She went through three years of sourcing design before arriving at the alluring blue eye version, distinctive and beautiful.
She built trust with the Mastiha Growers’ Cooperative in Chios, a very tightly knit group, that does not allow outsiders in.
She tested and tested the product with the head of research and development of the Mastiha Ennosi.
She learned about mastiha history and its medicinal uses.
She found a wealthy investor who helped her draft a business plan and put down $1.5 million in capital. And then she lost the seed funding when the Eurocrisis tanked the Greek stock markets in 2010.
She went back to square one–more than once.
She hustled to find investors.She did stand-up comedy to boost her confidence to stand up in front of investors to pitch her brand.
She sent over 159 pitch emails just to get eight on board.
She even trained in body building competitions gathering her earnings to raise capital for the product.
She persevered. And here she is: the first Greek woman in history to start a liquor brand.
Kleos launched officially last year on the island of Mykonos in some of the most jet-setting venues, including at luxe hotels like Cavo Tagoo, Bill and Coo, and Kouros in Mykonos, as well as the most exclusive beach bars SantAnna, and Jackie O, and restaurants like Interni and Ling Ling
“The road to get to market as a woman in a male dominated industry made me determined to uphold my own value,” Panagopoulos explains.
The Kleos formula also happens to be made by Greece’s only female distiller, Maroussa Tsaxaki, at the famed distillery Isidoros Arvanitis in Lesvos.
By June of this year, it will be available in the duty free shops of three Greek airports-Athens, Crete, and Rhodes. It has soft launched in Massachusetts, Panagopoulos’ home state and is available in select bars in New York City. (If you really need to take a swig, head over to Omega Liquors, the one store in Astoria that carries Kleos.)
“Mastiha is Greece’s best kept secret,” she explains. “It is a superfood.”
While most Greeks know its distinct taste from the “ipobrichio” the submarine, sugary dollops of mastiha, the gooey desert served on a long spoon in a tall glass of cold water, it is not well-known outside Hellenic borders.
Even so, mastiha has been used as a medicinal herb from Hippocrates’ time and makes various appearances in the historical record in the writings of Herodotus and Dioscurides, the Greek father of pharmacology, whose “De Materia Medica praised the therapeutic properties of mastiha on the same page he praised cannabis.
Although she has no family connections to Chios, the one place in the world where masticha is harvested, she states, “My soul lived there in a former life.” Panagopoulos’ felt an immediate connection to the land and the trees from which it is harvested. “I cried the first time I harvested it,” she narrates.
Her passionate belief in the product has transformed her purpose: to become the ambassador for mastiha to the world.
The Person Behind the Product
Effie Panagotopoulos grew up in and around Boston, Massachusettes. Her parents, heralding from Sparta and Tripoli/Megalopoli, carried the same immigrant narrative: they came off the boat with $20 in their pocket looking for a better life. “Part of my drive comes from this, that my parents came from poor little villages. I grew up a teen knowing we did not have what others did. I wanted to do better than my parents.”
The fact that she could achieve her ambitions as a woman speaks to the power of growing up American. “The system in Greece is a mess, whether female or male,” she confesses. “It is extremely difficult to be an entrepreneur in Greece. But for a woman, it is like going back 50 years.” The distributors could not believe she was the owner of the brand, but kept referring her as the sales associate.
Part of the problem Panagotopoulos’ decries is the lack of role models in business for women in Greece. “Young Greek girls do not have much to aspire to except in media or entertainment,” she explains, “fake blondes with fake boobs.” They feel comfortable taking on traditionally feminine professions such as teaching. They are too afraid to venture out and take risks, a mandatory element for most entrepreneurs.
The bi-cultural perspective allows the opportunity to exhibit her ambitions. Not without a struggle. She remembers to be taken seriously by venture capitalists who kept passing over her brand, she had to organize an entire advisory board of recognized (majority male) restauranteurs and bartenders.
Quotes On Success
“Money is power. Men make more money, so for women to be in positions of power, we need more money.”
“In order to make it, you have to be gutsy. Leave fear at the door. Only until you put balls to the wall, only when you make very bold moves can you finally make it.”
“Modern day Greece has had a fall from it’s ancient Glory, and with KLEOS Mastiha Spirit, I hope to in my own way restore a piece of Greece’s long lost glory with a beautiful product for the global market, that we can call a luxury brand.
If along the way, I can inspire my fellow Greek women, and young Greek entrepreneurs to look back into our roots and the best our country has to offer, to reverse what previous generations have done, and spur the economy, I will have had success.”
Mastiha Cocktail Recipes
The signature cocktail—The “KLEO-Patra”
2 parts KLEOS Mastiha Spirit
1/2 part fresh lemon juice
1/4 part Simple Syrup
|4 basil leaves
Shake all ingredients vigorously.
Strain over fresh crushed ice in a highball.
Garnish with a lemon wheel and basil leaf.
Adapted from the modern classic cocktail “The Med” created by the Greek demigod of the modern age of cocktails, Michael Menegos.
Like Plato and Socrates, you can find him in Athens’ best watering holes waxing poetic on government, philosophy, food and drink.
-The US has become a large purchaser of mastiha. Hospitals are buying it for bandages for wound healing, and US supplement companies have started selling it in pill form. A serving here of Jarrow Mastic is 2 pills, 1000mg, for stomach health.
-Ancient Romans spiced wine with Mastiha
-Mastiha is used to manufacture surgical thread. Stitches made with this thread are absorbed by the body, do not require cutting, and have an anti-inflammatory effect
-Also used by American hospitals to make bandages for wounds
-Mastiha appears in the famous pre-Prohibition cocktail book by Robert Vermiere that references mastiha as a classic cocktail