The Koutouzis family sponge industry began on the Kalymnos Island in Greece, generations before Lori and her husband, Michael Mougros, started Lori's Soap & Sponge Market on John's Pass in Madeira Beach. Her parents, Efymia and Michael Koutouzis, were born and raised on the sponge-diving island; her uncles on both sides cleaned, packaged and sold sponges, and her grandfathers did, too.
“My whole family on both sides, even my brother-in-law and husband, are all from the same island,” Lori said. “And we are all spongers.”
Her parents moved to the States at separate times. After getting married, they lived outside Chicago and had their first wholesale sponge business called Vir-ma, named after their two daughters Virginia and Maria.
“My parents felt bad that I wasn't included in the first business name, even though I wasn't born yet, so when we started the new retail sponge business, it was named just after me,” Lori said.
Lori's Soap & Sponge Market has three locations: Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks opened in 2004, owner Michael Koutouzis; Branson, MO opened in 2007, owner Efymia; and Madeira Beach opened in 2008, owners Lori and Michael.
“In order to have the type of store we have, it has to be in a touristy type spot,” Lori said. “We want to be a little unique and in a gift shop area. John's Pass is absolutely beautiful and high class.”
How was Lori's Soap & Sponge Market's popular soap and sponge combo product derived? Simply by chance.
“My dad was trying to make soaps as a hobby and thought of the idea to combine sponges with soaps,” Lori said. “He experimented with it and got a good response from people who were trying it out. That's how it all started.”
From soft bathing wool sponges to shaping decorative finger sponges, Lori's Soap & Sponge Market has sponges for all uses. All products are handmade by family members. The sponges are bought directly from the divers at the Sponge Docks. They are cleaned, clipped and prepped.
The soaps are made from goat's milk and olive oil. Goat's milk is a natural source of alpha-hydroxy acid, which helps rejuvenate the skin. Olive oil holds moisture while allowing skin to breath. Both products make the skin soft and smooth.
Lori's dad, husband and brother-in-law Elias Trikilis make the soaps. With more than 30 scents, goat's milk bars are made by combining the milk with other ingredients, pouring it into individual molds, adding the sponges/puffy/loofa and setting it to dry within 20 minutes.
Lori's favorite scent is coco-mango, which is one of the first homemade scents and the most popular seller. “I love the sea salt body scrub in coco mango; it exfoliates the skin so nicely and moisturizes at the same time,” Lori said. “It's fabulous and gentle enough to use daily on your whole body and face.”
Olive oil bars take much longer to make. The liquid ingredients need to dry out first; the mixture then churns consistently for three hours, pours into a big square mold and is cut into individual pieces. After the scent and color are added, the olive oil bar has to sit for a month before it can be used.
The family is able to make a couple hundred goat's milk bars and approximately a hundred olive oil bars daily.
Customers can order soaps, sponges, loofas, facial creams and other bathing products through the online store. Products can be shipped for a flat rate of $9.95.
Lori's Soap & Sponge Market on John's Pass is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday.