Fourth generation baker keeps it sweet in Lowell’s Acre neighborhood
When most of Greater Lowell is still tucked in bed at 3 a.m., a light illuminates the storefront at 216 Broadway Street.
In a kitchen warmed by ovens and the aroma of sugar and spice, Alethia Papanastassiou is wide awake and busy doing what four generations of her family have done for over a century — making bread from scratch and perfecting recipes for Olympos Bakery’s sweet success.
Her Great-grandfather, Spiro Vulgaropulos, opened Olympos in Lowell’s Acre neighborhood in 1915, selling bread to Greek immigrants who longed for a taste of home.
Since then, the business moved from a church basement to its landmark Broadway Street location and just about every member of the family has worked the bakery at some point in their lives, says Alethia, handing down treats baked with love from the kitchen to the customer.
Alethia took over running business in her 20s, continuing the tradition of churning out some of the city’s most sought-after baked goods and providing Olympos’ signature breads — crispy on the outside and soft on the inside — to several local restaurants including Athenian Corner, The Olympia and Arthur’s Paradise Diner, which uses Olympos bulkies on their famous Boott Mill breakfast sandwiches.
“Taking over the family business wasn’t a hard decision to make,” she says. “I grew up in this kitchen. It has always felt like home so this is a labor of love for me.”
The kitchen, naturally, is the heart of the operation.
Here you’ll find Alethia, hands dusted in flour and a smile on her face. Her mother, Denise, who owned the shop for years, is still a regular presence at the bakery and Alethia’s grandmother, 92-year-old Helen Vulgaropulos, often stops in to visit the grandkids and can occasionally be found rolling dough.
When the sun finally rises and the shop opens its doors, the glass display counters packed with sweets smothered in chocolate, powdered with confection sugar and laced with frosting can convince even the most diet-conscious to loosen their belts and admit defeat.
Old timers and construction workers fill up the counter at the storefront window, talking sports and politics over steaming cups of coffee, fresh sweet bread, homemade cookies and pastries.
When lunch rolls around, lines of hungry people in the cozy Acre shop often spill out the door for an Olympos signature super-sized sandwich. For $6.95, customers choose their bread, meat, toppings and cheese.
Did we mention the Holiday Sandwich? This special number is jam packed with roasted turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy served on warm bread, for under $10.
This is one of the few places in Lowell where you can still find some lunch items for less than the price of a gallon of gas, like pizza by the slice baked on homemade dough, and grilled cheese sandwiches served on thick Olympos “Mega Toast” “bread.
Nearing their centennial anniversary in 2015, Alethia says one of the things she loves most about carrying on the family torch is having a place at so many dinner tables across Greater Lowell.
“Dinner time is family time,” she says. “Whether it’s the fresh bread or dessert, we help tie it all together. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Olympos Bakery
WHERE: 216 Broadway St., Lowell, Mass.
INFO: Open Monday to Friday, 8am to 7pm and Saturday, 8am to 6pm. Closed Sunday. View menu here.