When I sheepishly told the woman behind the newest Ellenos yogurt bar at QFC—where a dozen-odd flavors are displayed, gelato-shop style, in rectangular trays—that I wanted to buy two tubs and pack them on a plane flight to California, she didn’t find my plan bizarre in the slightest.
“Freeze it for a minimum of four hours,” she advised. “Preferably overnight. Otherwise the TSA will confiscate it.” Despite being as thick as newly set flan, Seattle’s latest cultured dairy obsession runs afoul of airports’ liquids and gels policy; clearly I wasn’t the only person spreading the gospel of Ellenos beyond the Pacific Northwest.
So began my life as a yogurt mule. On my dad’s last visit to Seattle, I insisted he try Ellenos’s two most popular flavors, lemon curd and marionberry; now he says I can’t visit him in Sacramento without packing at least a few tubs.
Muling yogurt is how Seattle scored Ellenos in the first place. When Yvonne Klein was a flight attendant for Air Canada, she’d spend stopovers in Sydney eating an amazing local yogurt. Its uber-straightforward name, the Greek Yoghurt Company, belied a gently tangy flavor so rich its memory lingered long after Klein was home in Seattle. She started bringing yogurt back for her husband, Bob. Then for their friends. The Kleins eventually flew to Australia to cold call the owners and, over four years, convinced yogurt maker Con Apostolopoulos and his attorney son, Alex, to leave Brisbane. This unlikely foursome now runs Ellenos, its Georgetown production facility squeezed so tight from rapid growth that they conduct meetings at the Flying Squirrel pizzeria next door.
Describe the cult of Ellenos to the uninitiated, and it does sound funny. It’s just yogurt after all, the stuff of Jamie Lee Curtis ads and mournfully virtuous breakfasts. It’s made with nothing more than whole milk, a yogurt culture brought from Australia, and just a little honey and cane sugar as sweetener. Flavors are simple, mostly based on pureed fruit. Ellenos debuted its Pike Place Market stand in 2013, but further growth proved challenging. The yogurt is strained the traditional way and blended, like wine—a five-day process yielding something too decadent to be spoken of in the same breath as Chobani, too probiotically virtuous to be lumped in with indulgences like ice cream.
Thousands of tiny sample spoons soon catapulted Ellenos from one of many excellent local foodstuffs to a full-blown obsession; it’s rare someone tries the stuff and isn’t immediately a fervent fan. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka proclaimed his love of the pumpkin pie flavor on Instagram; now the whole team eats it. When the yogurt bar ended its seasonal run at the South Lake Union farmers market, Amazon consoled distraught employees by stocking cups in its cafeterias.
Ellenos has grown production as much as possible in its current space, but an additional Federal Way facility is in the works. “We’re definitely going national,” says Con. “That was always our plan.”
Today Ellenos has yogurt bars in local grocery stores like PCC, QFC, and Uwajimaya, but it’s hard to match the charm of its Pike Place Market stand. Our city’s most iconic neon signage looms overhead, practically begging customers to hoist yogurt cups aloft and proclaim their love via Instagram, every image further establishing Greece’s signature yogurt, made by a guy from Australia, as indelibly Seattle.