30 In Their Thirties: Christina Kalfaian, Owner and CEO, Papa’s Kitchen, Troy

A month-long stay in the Cleveland Clinic treating a rare congenital condition with an equally rare innovative surgery might be too much for most patients to endure. That wasn’t the case with Christina Kalfaian.
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Christina Kalfaian // Photo by Trever Long

A month-long stay in the Cleveland Clinic treating a rare congenital condition with an equally rare innovative surgery might be too much for most patients to endure. That wasn’t the case with Christina Kalfaian.

Instead, from her hospital bed she created plans for a business, Papa’s Kitchen, that today produces gourmet salad dressings and at the same time honors her father, Jimmy Papadopoulos.

During his 40-plus years as a restauranter, Papadopoulos made his own signature pink Greek salad dressing for his restaurants — Sophia’s Family Dining in Troy and Ocean Breeze Family Dining in Shelby Township. Her father retired in 2015.

Kalfaian remembers laying in her hospital bed in midsummer 2019 and thinking: What can I do that would be honorable to him without him having to lift a finger? “So, I came up with honoring his legacy by bringing his pink Greek salad back to life for people to experience and enjoy in their homes every day,” she recalls.

Soon after, she made sketches of bottles and labels for the dressings, concocted two flavors of her own, and added one from her great-grandmother’s recipes. She says she left the hospital after becoming the 64th person worldwide to successfully undergo the surgical procedure she endured.

“Once I was out of the hospital I started researching and developing the knowledge of how to manufacture the products, and I paired up with Michigan State University’s Product Center. It really helped me understand the process and guided me to get from my idea to an actual bottle,” she says.

With her mother, Cleo, Kalfaian founded Papa’s Kitchen in 2021. Within six months the women-certified startup sold 10,000 bottles, thanks to help from a social media campaign.

A local food distributor now supplies their four unique salad dressings — Dill, Greek, Harvest, and Vinaigrette — to more than 120 retail locations and restaurants in Michigan. Kalfaian says she recently moved into the Ohio market.

Fresh Thyme, Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace, Papa Joe’s, Busch’s, Hollywood, and Meijer are among the metro Detroit markets offering her products.

“Our story is a true testament of the American dream meets a miracle,” she says.

Kalfaian’s business acumen began taking shape at an early age. “I was 4 years old, taking cash at the cash register at Sophia’s, and I was probably the only 4-year-old that could count money properly,” she laughs.

If creating Papa’s Kitchen wasn’t enough of a challenge, Kalfaian did it while working as a licensed real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway.

“I just took the knowledge I had from my real estate world and implemented it into the salad dressing world,” she says. “I’ve partnered (the two worlds). My closing gift to my clients is salad dressings for their first meals in their new homes.”