In the old blacksmithing quarter of Ioannina, on Zappa Street near the entrance to the Old Town, a blacksmith’s shop has been in operation at the same location for 87 years, although there have been some other changes. This family business now belongs to the third generation of owners, Rania Pitenis and her husband, Vangelis Gogo, who’ve brought fresh ideas to the business and revived an ancient art, that of making knives by hand.
The sign above the door of the establishment reads: “Telis Ioannina.” The business is named after its founder, Aristotle Pitenis, Rania’s grandfather. A Vlach from Samarina to the north, Aristotle, or Telis to his friends, settled in the city in 1933 and opened his own ironworks. A knife-maker of great skill, he gained a special reputation for pocket knives and butcher knives. The operation then passed to his eldest son, Adamantios Pitenis, who saw the market become flooded with industrially manufactured knives and watched as small family-run craft businesses like his close their doors. He managed to survive by turning to the production of agricultural and livestock tools, axes, pick-axes and, most of all, scissors for shearing sheep and goats, for which there was still a huge demand. At the peak of production, he was helped by his son-in-law, Vangelis, a manufacturer of windows who found metallurgy offered him a creative outlet and a rewarding hobby.
When Adamantios Pitenis passed away unexpectedly in 2016, his daughter, Rania, and Vangelis were forced to make a quick decision: would they close the business? They decided to keep it going, but on their own terms, and threw them into the work with enthusiasm and new ideas. With a friend who happened to be an industrial designer, they came up with their first knife design, basing it on one of Telis’ butcher knives, and they also renovated the shop, respecting its history but creating something unique, a shop to truly make Ioannina proud and a space that is more reminiscent of an exhibition gallery than anything else.
Here they display their beautifully designed knives, true masterpieces of functional as well as aesthetic value. Just opposite the store is the old workshop with the sharpening wheel still in place, a still-functional piece of street history. It’s in this workshop, as well as in their larger workspace in the area of Perama, just outside Ioannina, that the old art form comes to life again and Vangelis, like a modern Hephaestus, works the metal in the fire and on the anvil.
The knives that Vangelis creates are 100% handmade, from the blade to the handle, all done by him, and they are reminders of a lost era and a nearly lost art. Even the metal from which they are made is old; it comes from a stock of carbon steel that Rania and Vangelis discovered in their warehouse that dates from the days of grandfather Telis. Now it’s time for that metal to fulfill its purpose and, literally passing through the fire, to be reborn, taking shape and form. Carving knives, cheese knives, general purpose knives, cleavers large and small, all beautiful products of the forge and wonderful evidence of Vangelis’ talent, stand in row after shining row in the store.
Most of the knives have already been spoken for, and more than a few will be shipped abroad to destinations such as Paris and Belgium. There are, however, a few that you can buy on the spot, but you must keep in mind that rules of mass production and inventory stock do not apply here. The store operates mostly with orders; Taverna 37 at the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens in Vouliagmeni, for instance, has procured its carving knives from Telis Ioannina.
This article was previously published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.