A man sitting in front of a wooden backdrop stares at the camera
John Kouretas puts his heart and soul into the San Jose Greek Festival. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

If John Kouretas could wave a magic wand, he’d transport any San Jose resident in love with Greece back to his beloved ancestral country for a visit. But since he can’t, Kouretas brings the food, music and culture to San Jose.

Kouretas said the joy of having the community come together to celebrate the three-day San Jose Greek Festival from May 31 to June 2 “lifts him up” and keeps him going. He has been overseeing every detail for years with the assistance of fellow residents Bill Christie, Paul Pries, Elias Psycharis and Nick Tsolis.

“The setting… remarkable food, the band playing, people dancing. It’s a very nice three days,” he told San José Spotlight. “We like to blanket everybody and take care of them. It’s the Greek way.”

Kouretas, 58, was raised in Sacramento by Greek immigrants. When he and his brother attended kindergarten and first grade, they spoke Greek rather than English. The family still has strong roots in the country and often goes back to visit relatives. Kouretas came to San Jose in 1984 to attend Santa Clara University, where he received undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering. He works in the tech industry at Synopsys, previously as an engineer and now in management.

Kouretas invites Silicon Valley residents to be Greek for a day: Taste Greek food made from age-old family recipes and enjoy live music and dance in a village-like atmosphere.

Festival co-chair Tsolis credits Kouretas’ organizational skills and attention to detail with keeping the event going year after year.

“John is the king of the festival,” Tsolis told San José Spotlight. “He’s so passionate about the Greek community. His deep appreciation of his heritage spills over into anything he does. He takes so much pride in keeping this festival alive.”

Cultural Greek dances entertain festival attendees throughout the weekend. Photo courtesy of Victoria Smyrniotis.

The festival raises about $500,000 and nets $350,000 to $400,000 each year, Kouretas said. The funds go toward maintenance of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and charity. A key to the festival’s success is the quality of its authentic food — grilled lamb chops, pastitsio, dolmades, gyros and sweets such as baklava and loukoumades, a Greek donut with honey.

Kouretas said the festival is an opportunity to have a wonderful time in a lovely setting, eat some of the best Greek food and drink good Greek wine.

“It’s like I’m in heaven,” he said.

Georgia Tassos, festival social media coordinator, said Kouretas has innovated how the event runs as it’s grown over the years — allowing people to order food and tickets online and incorporating Wi-Fi festival-wide to enable the easy use of credit cards.

“The main reason why we’ve continued to show up… year after year is because of John,” she told San José Spotlight. “If he wasn’t the top banana, I don’t think it would be running as well. That’s why we all want to help and dedicate ourselves to our community; because of someone like him.”

The Rev. Nebojsa Pantic said the festival brings generations together to connect with their roots and faith.

“It’s all about community,” he told San José Spotlight. “It’s about sharing our culture with everyone… the sounds, the smells, the sights of Greece… the faith of Greece.”

Pantic said it takes a village to make this event happen and Kouretas is a wonderful leader.

“He’s very dedicated.” Pantic said. “We jokingly call him ‘the wizard’ because the guy just comes up with things out of nowhere. He understands people. He understands organization. He understands our faith. He understands what we’re trying to do… to share with people the wonderful spirit of Greece.”

The San Jose Greek festival takes place Friday May 31 to Sunday June 2 at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at 1260 Davis Street in San Jose.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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