If you were born in a NSW country town in the 30s 40s 50s or 60s, you will remember a Greek café. They say every town had at least one. Perhaps you remember pushing through double swing doors to a cool, chic, chrome and etched-glass interior; admiring rows of chocolate boxes in glass display cabinets; ogling jars of lollies; slurping a shake, soda or sundae; or squashing into a booth with your family and consuming a mixed grill or hamburger and chips.
The owners may have been Greek but they knew how to cater for an Australian clientele in a dusty Australian town. Theirs were the best and most modern places for meals and refreshments. They wooed Australians to an eating-out culture with cheap, generous servings. They wooed the shift-worker or the man staggering home from the pub, with meals at all hours, day and night. They wooed the young, with banana splits, milk shakes, ice creams and American-style carbonated drinks from a soda fountain.
The Greeks in Australia learnt by osmosis that a café was a good way to earn a living and give them financial security – a café, that is, that served Australian cuisine, not Greek. They served their Greek food for family and friends when the café was closed. In the meantime they did whatever it took to fit into their new country. Anglicised their names, masked their heritage, employed locals and sponsored the community. It didn’t always help. Many Greeks experienced rejection and racism.
Four Greek cafés operated in Kandos and Rylstone from the 1920s: The Majestic, White Rose, Carlton and De Luxe. In June 1922 Nick Sauter/Nicolos Sotiropoulos opened the Kandos Majestic Refreshment Rooms, adjacent to Kandos Stores, informing the public of his electrically driven carbonator, excellent catering, light-filled interior and Peters’ famous ice cream. In October he advertised for a smart young girl, experience preferred. In 1925, by then a citizen, Nick went to Sydney to manage the Wembley Private Hotel, in Yurong-street. He wasn’t finished with Kandos though. In the late 30s and 40s he ran the De Luxe café in Kandos Stores, and finally left in 1949 with the Mudgee Guardianpraising him for his “keen interest in the town’s affairs…and ever ready to subscribe to deserving cases. He will be greatly missed”.
Phillip Mickelis/Mikelis opened the Carlton Refreshment Rooms at Rylstone in December 1922 inviting country people to enjoy hot and cold meals prepared at short notice. Business was so reassuring that a year later he opened new refreshment rooms in Kandos, in Walsh’s second building (Alan Jackson’s), and gave the profits for the first week to Rylstone Hospital. He assured potential customers this was one of the most up-to-date cafes of its kind in the country, with elaborate and attractive furnishings and separate conveniences for ladies and gentlemen. Soon Phillip had purchased a Hudson Super Six and his sister Maria and brother Dimetrius had joined him at Rylstone to run Mickelis Bros. The family had good Greek connections. In 1928 Phillip married Elizabeth Zekou, associated with the official Greek newspaper “The National Tribune”. The following year Maria married Angelo Gooma, friend of the Consul-General for Greece. Both were married in St Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral. After twenty years in Rylstone, Mikelis sold the café and its effects and retired to his home in Kensington with a wallet of notes (£14/10/) from “the citizens of Rylstone district to show their appreciation of his good qualities of citizenship and patriotism”. George and Poppy Steganos soon ran the Carlton Cafe and sold it to George and Anna Menegatos who ran it in the seventies.
Mickelis didn’t run the café in Kandos for long. In 1924 the Zografos/Zographos brothers, Nicolas and Frank, took it over, naming it the White Rose, a popular name for Greek cafés, not just in Temora, Dunedoo, Cootamundra and Boorowa but Singapore, Mumbai and US. At Kandos, Nick and Frank advertised as the artist of ice cream sundaes, the home of summer delicacies, with afternoon tea a speciality, and meals at all hours. Within two years, notices alerted readers that the White Rose Sundae Shop was under the new management of Athans Bros and the partnership with Zographos Brothers had been dissolved.
Arthur Athans/Athenas Athanassiades is the one I am most interested in. While still involved with the Zographos Bros, Arthur also ran a waffle manufacturing business, the North Shore Waffle Shop, with two other Greeks at Milsons Point. In December 1925, following a dispute with partner Savas Dimitriou, at which Arthur was awarded £143, the partnership was dissolved and Arthur continued running the business with his third partner Christ Joanides.
Arthur was unstoppable. At Kandos he not only ran the White Rose, but a few months later took on the lease of the Kandos Majestic from Nick Sauter, advertising quality chocolates, cigarettes and tobacco and meals at all hours – “See Athons Bros and taste their good drinks”. Arthur enthusiastically embraced the town. He presented the footballers with the Athons Trophy (still being played for in 1933), joined Mrs Muller’s orchestra on mandolin, appeared at the Methodist concert with a song “I’ll sing to you”, and looked for a wife.
My mother remembered Arthur. “I used to go to the White Rose with my sister Connie,” she told me, “He gave us extra good drinks.” Connie was the girl of Arthur’s dreams and he expressed his love in letters. Unfortunately Connie was involved with a married man. It caused scandal, she ran away from home, a court case followed, and Arthur’s letters were read in court: “I am writing to tell you of the great love I have for you… I know your Dad likes me…” The Magistrate cleared the court “owing to several of the public not maintaining order.” Arthur’s credibility was shot and soon after he left Kandos, places unknown. In 1930 dJambus and Cris took over the lease of the White Rose Café and Refreshment Room but they were arguably the least successful of the Greek café owners at Kandos and closed shop in 1932.
Australia is home to one of the largest Greek communities in the world, and an important part of our multicultural history. With their formidable work ethic and innate understanding of what the public wanted, they provided food and fantasy for outback towns.
Note: Greeks didn’t open the first cafes in Kandos. Two women did. Mrs Mayzie Hyland in Kandos Stores (May 1919) sold confectionery, soft drinks, fruit and vegetables. Within a year or two Mrs Annie Byrnes had opened a double-fronted shop, where Vinnies now is, and sold fruit, confectionery and drinks, as well as groceries, small goods, tobacco and cakes. It later became the Cinema Café.
The longest running café was the Kandos Majestic, burnt down in 1928, and rebuilt by John B Simpkins in 1929. According to Bruce Fleming’s History of Kandos, George Roulis, Kitz Bros, George and Anna Sterganos, George Bouletos and George Menengatos ran it in the late sixties and seventies.
4 thoughts on “Food and Fantasy in a Greek Café”
Loved your expose of Greek Cafes in Kandos Rylstone. The first Greek cafe I can rremember growing up was the Fiesta Cafe in Alexandra, Vic that served the best fish and chips. We’d sneak away from school at lunch time and get hot chips.
This was one I enjoyed writing. It brought back many memories too.
Great history lesson
Thanks Gail. I learnt a lot too