The first Greeks in Chicago arrived as ship captains in the 1840s. They started out as food peddlers and, by natural progression, became restaurant owners. Around the turn of the century, the Greeks concentrated around the Harrison, Blue Island and Halsted area, originally known as the as Deltaîbut later re-named as Greektown. During the 1960s, Greektown was displaced by the Eisenhower Expressway and the University of Illinois at Chicago, forcing a move north a few blocks.
In 1968, gyros and saganaki (flaming cheese) were introduced in this country by Chicago’s Greektown. From 1970 to 1990, most of the current restaurants and businesses opened, and the Taste of Greece summer festival became a tradition. In 1996, with the Democratic National Convention coming to town, the city of Chicago recognized Greektown’s contribution to the city by pouring millions of dollars into street renovations and erecting traditional Greek temples and pavilions at the major intersections in Greektown.
Today, Old World traditions are prevalent in the many establishments of Greektown. The language is still heard in the neighborhood, and the community comes out in full ethnic pride during the annual Greek Independence Day parade, the Taste of Greece and the days surrounding Greek Easter. Chicago’s Greektown is truly the best sampling of Greek heritage outside of Athens, and has grown to be a world-renowned attraction.