Like many towns in New Jersey and Hudson County, Union City is known to be a melting pot of people from all over the world. The town’s cultural diversity is reflected in the lovely shops and local businesses. Over a century ago, Ellis Island saw more than 12 million immigrants come to America for the promise of a better life. Liberty Greek Pastries, located at 2409 Central Avenue, was founded almost a hundred years ago by a Greek family who arrived at Ellis Island hoping to attain the American Dream — and they succeeded. Read on to learn more about Liberty Greek Pastries in Union City, New Jersey.
Owner of Liberty Greek Pastries, Maria Serghis, is the matriarch of her family and her kindness to the community is one of the reasons why the bakery is still open today.
“Everyone who walks through this door or calls us on the phone gets treated like family, so we are very personable,” said Maria. “My father-in-law used to say, ‘They are not just customers they are people, and if you are lucky, some will become family’. This is in all of us and our customers are the best part of Liberty Greek Pastries.”
The family-owned business is over 96 years old and began in Cyprus when Maria’s father-in-law, Louis Serghis, made the pastries from his home. “He would then travel from village to village by donkey selling them,” said Maria. Louis Serghis, the founder of the bakery itself, arrived at Ellis Island and opened the bakery in 1927 in Washington Heights, N.Y. “He named it Liberty [since he was] thankful that this great country gave him a shot.”
The Serghis family has now been in Union City since the 1950s, after Maria’s husband, Michael, opened up the current location so that he could have a bigger space to make the hand-stretched filo dough. “We have seen the city build up during different decades and periods in time,” said Maria. “We are honored to be a part of this community and are happy to call it our home. In this diverse area, we are proud to be Americans giving the community in the retail and wholesale industries a taste of our birthplace — Greece. Our traditions, like everyone else’s here, run deep. We are all the same and the only thing unique about us is how traditional our pastries are.”
Everything in the bakery is made fresh, in-house, and in small batches to ensure freshness. Maria’s son, Lou Serghis, wakes up early every morning and drives from Tinton Falls to Union City to help his mom at the bakery. The entire Serghis family was incredibly gracious and generous during our interview as we got a chance to speak to Maria and meet her son Lou, her daughter-in-law Meg, and her grandchildren, Maggie and Mikey. Maria and her family served up a delicious spread of assorted Greek pastries, strudels, cookies, and spanakopita. We left more than satisfied and had to share our favorites with our readers.
According to Maria, the best-sellers and most popular Greek pastries are the Baklava, Sarali (a hand-rolled baklava), galaktoboureko (a custard filling inside the fillo dough drizzled with homemade syrup) and the Kataifi which is a thin shredded wheat dough stuffed with walnuts and the pastry absorbs the syrup. From the cookie section, Kourabiedes (butter cookies), Koulourakia (Greek traditional cookie), and Finikia, which is a honey cookie with walnuts sprinkled on top. Maria says this is a very big seller all year round. Also, the spinach and cheese pies are a top seller for them as well, and an absolute must-try (take it from us).
“On our other menu, we also specialize in apple strudel and cream cheese strudels with a variety of toppings from cherry to Nutella.”
We tried the cherry and Nutella strudels and they were phenomenal. The syrup used in the pastries and cookies is made with cinnamon sticks, water, sugar, clove sticks, and fresh lemon. Lou says there are no secrets to the recipe, just good-quality ingredients. The honey, olives, olive oil, and cheese are all imported from Greece. Lou emphasized that the formula for the filo dough has stayed the same since the very beginning.
“That’s why my father originally bought this property, it was specifically just to make this dough,” said Lou. “Nobody else did it in the area.”
The Glue That Holds it Together
Maria was born in Mandraki, Nisyros, Greece. She is a devoted member of the Greek Orthodox Church and her faith is one of the most important things to her.
“My religious beliefs are deep and I love going to church. The rest of my time I love being with my family,” she said. “At the bakery, I have many friends and family visiting me. I am very lucky.”
During our visit, she pulled out photo albums and showed us pictures of her family, the shop in the 1960s, and hand-written letters from loyal customers from the 1980s and 1990s. Maria, who is now a young 81, originally wanted to be a fashion designer. “I was offered a position with a prestigious company at the time,” said Maria.
“I met my husband, we got married, and had a family. He had the bakery and we made the commitment to do it together. I have been doing this for over six decades and I’m honored that I have had the opportunity to keep the traditions and quality of our products the same way it was back then. My son Louis always says ‘If our products don’t meet the standards as it did over 96 years ago, it will not leave our store’.”
The Future of Liberty Greek Pastries
Maria says that she hopes her son and his family can take over the business and possibly expand. “We are looking at the North Eastern part of Monmouth County to open up our second retail location,” said Lou. “We need to find the right location to lease that is almost outfitted for a bakery. We don’t want to incur a large construction buildout. We are hopeful that very soon we can locate such a property as many of our customers make special travel arrangements just to buy our products.”
The bakery has its website and social media pages for customers to order online. Lou says they are also looking forward to remodeling the front of the store this year.
“We have started shipping across the country with online sales. Our customers can choose to have the items shipped or schedule a pickup to have anything on our menu made for them coming right out of the oven.”
“We have made a commitment to all of our amazing customers that we promise to make the best traditional Greek products, from our Greek menu to our strudels, possible. We always have and will be honored to serve our customers.”
To order from Liberty Greek Pastries, visit the website or in person. The bakery is open Monday-Saturday from 7AM to 5PM and closed on Sundays. Follow Liberty Greek Pastries on Instagram and Facebook for all the up-to-date info on sales and events.