Tampa Bay celebrates many cultures, ethnic influences and diversity among its residents. However, one part of our area claims the highest percentage of Americans with Greek heritage of any city in the United States. The National Park Service lists Tarpon Springs’ Greektown Historic District on its National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property, which is a first for Florida. This designation marks Florida’s first recognized Traditional Cultural Property, and the first of its kind as a listed ethnic-based community in the United States.
As April captures the most important holiday on the Greek Orthodox church calendar, it is the perfect time to meet these three moms to know: Sevi Lagos, the matriarch of the Lagos family who stands out for her avid community support and involvement, and her daughters, two other notable moms Vasilea Kaplanis and Maria McAdams.
TBPM: Talk to us about your family history and background.
SL: My parents are American and Bahamian-born Greeks. My dad’s parents migrated from the island of Crete to America at a young age, leaving their beautiful island behind in hopes of a better future. My mother’s parents migrated from the island of Kalymnos to Nassau, Bahamas, also at a young age. True story—the first time my grandfather laid eyes on my grandmother was on their wedding day!
My parents met at a Greek dance in Miami, Florida where my dad was living at the time. My mom attended, (with her parents of course) and it was love at first sight.
Shortly after they were married in Nassau Bahamas, I was born. [When I was] 16, my parents decided that it was time to move to Florida for the future of their three children. Through other Greek American families and friends, my parents were introduced to our Clearwater community and our Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. That’s where Mark and I met, more than 40 years ago! Our children and grandchildren have all been baptized in our church.
My husband and his family moved to Ohio when he was 10 years old from their beautiful island of Chios. Once Mark and I met, his family also moved to Florida and became a part of our thriving Greek community in the Tampa Bay area.
TBPM: How do you honor and celebrate the traditions of the Greek culture throughout the year?
MM: A few of the many traditions that we celebrate are Epiphany (watching the young boys dive for the cross at the Tarpon Springs bayou) and cutting the Vasilopita on the first of the year (whoever receives the coin is said to have good luck for the year). We also have carried on the tradition of naming our children after our parents. Vasilea has carried on my mom’s name Sevasti, naming her daughter after our mom. And I have also carried on the tradition of naming our son Andy after my father-in-law.
One of my favorite holidays in the Greek faith is our Easter and the events that lead up to the celebration. During our Holy Week, there are services every day and night taking you through Jesus’ last week of life. On Good Friday we decorate His tomb (Epitaphios) with flowers. Growing up, we would help our Yiayia and mother decorate the Epitaphios, and now we are blessed to be able to bring our children with us to carry on this tradition.
TBPM: What do you believe maintains the close-knit ties of the Greek community in Tampa Bay? Could you picture yourself ever moving from the area and how that could be different in another city?
SL: Our culture, faith, traditions and family maintain the close-knit ties of the Greek community. I really think that Mark and I could move anywhere, as long as our children and grandchildren were close by. We have always made it a point to attend church on our travels. There are beautiful Greek Orthodox churches all over the world! The Greek community has a way of always being warm and welcoming.
TBPM: Tell us about raising this next generation of Greek-Americans, Sevi’s grandchildren and Vasilea’s and Maria’s children. In what ways have things changed since the Lagos kids grew up? How often do you go back to Greece with the whole family?
SL: We are blessed that our sons-in-law and future daughter-in-law have been raised the same as our children, making it easier to continue and carry on our traditions. Not much has changed since I raised my children. My grandchildren now attend Greek school in person and via zoom, at our church. We have been going back to Greece with the whole family almost every summer! Everyone looks forward to it, and the grandchildren count down the days.
TBPM: Business savvy and an entrepreneurial spark seem to come naturally to the Lagos women. Tell us more about what you do! What inspires each of you to create and work at the level you each produce? To what do you attribute your business success to?
VK: Working and staying busy has always been a passion of mine. I loved working retail in high school and during summers in college to learn about the industry I was most passionate about. My dad’s sharp business sense and work ethic coupled with my mom’s sense of fashion and creativity helped guide me to build my business in fine jewelry today. I own and operate an e-commerce brand specializing in 14k gold and diamond jewelry. My passion is creating custom pieces for our clients and continuing to dream up new ideas and designs. I’m continuously inspired by the special pieces I help my clients design, and love seeing their vision come to life.
SL: My creative side has led me to a fulfilling passion—designing and creating every day gold-filled and gemstone jewelry.
TBPM: Tell us about some of your favorite Greek-owned businesses in Tampa Bay, and of course, the million-dollar question: top three restaurants for the best and most traditional Greek food.
SL: We support so many Greek owned businesses! Doctors, restaurants, clothing boutiques … too many to name! The million-dollar question is a tough one to answer, as I cook traditional Greek food at home as well as my mom and mother-in-law. Some of our favorite dishes are dolmades, moussaka, spanakopita, teropites, pastichio and tzatziki. One place that does compare to authentic Greek food is Psomi in Tampa. It’s difficult to compare the quality of the food and ingredients in Greece to America, but I’m always happy to share recipes!
TBPM: What are your favorite things to do in Tampa Bay as a family/ with your young kids?
MM: Some of our favorite things to do in Tampa as a family are the zoo, eating in Hyde Park (lunch at On Swann or Bar Taco and popsicles by the fountain), playing in local parks and enjoying the beach & pool!
*Originally published in the April 2022 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.
MORE Moms to KNOW:
- Meet the author of our Moms to KNOW pages, Julie Tingley, founder of Wee Macree
- Meet Kristen Brown, founder of TRIBE Seminole Heights