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Nickolas Tambakis

Cafe Society

The following is taken from an article written depicting early life of Greek migrants in cafes (Cafe Society) for the Illawarra Museum

The cafe society followed on from the general store of the late 19th Century early 20th Century. The general store had food as well as produce, clothing & hardware items. Towards the early 1920's there was a need to extend the variety of produce ie the emergence of the fruit shop & also make available prepared foods for demanding cliental such as the cafe. The Depression of 1927 slowed this transition however it picked up pace towards the mid 1930's. The initial cafes were very bland dedicated to a truly Australian cuisine, ie steak & eggs chips & salad or basic vegetables, sausages & eggs or a basic mixed grill. However by late 1950 the advent of the club scene in New South Wales & the large number of migrants coming to our shores from Europe demanded a change to the menu. This change saw the advent of the restaurant which extended the basic menu to include European dishes. Further to that there was a demand for quick service ie no waiting thus we saw the introduction of the cafeteria especially in department stores. This was an innovation which maximised revenue in the store by minimising eating & maximising shopping as well as the introduction of one stop shopping.

Towards the mid 1930's also saw the introduction of the milkbar (first milkbar was the Black & White in Martin Place, Sydney set up by the Adams family). Milkbars were equivalent to refreshment shops catering for mainly fruit juices & dairy drinks along with the sale of sweets & tabacco products & light snacks. The milkbar developed from its American equivalent & many of the juices & deserts had names derived from America. There was American Beauty, Banana Split, Pineapple Crush etc, these were presented in very ornate glasses & dishes. Each establishment was proud of its logo inscribed on the plates, cups & saucers. The proprietors were dressed in their colourful uniforms (dust coats) each displaying the name of the establishment. Shop assistants wore uniforms also displaying the name of the establishment & small hats. The cash registers were mechanically operated in pounds shillings & pence. They were cast iron & very ornate in their presentation. The real development of this period was ice cream which until Streets Ice Cream was established in Corrimal, NSW was prepared by hand by each establishment. The next important development was the milkshake. This was a dairy drink made of unhomogenised milk with flavouring, whipped in a beater, originally hand operated but later to be electrically operated. Each establishment had its own secret about beating thick, creamy milkshakes which would put today's samples to shame. The final development was the ice cream soda which was a combination of flavourings, ice cream & soda water presented with a large frothy head & a spoon to eat the ice cream.

Many of the names of these establishments came from Greek origins as their operators were mainly Greek, ie Parthenon, Acropolis, Athena, some carried American names ie Niagra, New York, California, Monterey & some had colours for names ie the Black & White, Blue & White, Silver Bell whilst others had the family name ie Parry's etc.

The beginnings of this cafe society was very interesting, in that the early operators emigrated from the island of Kythera, which lies at the southern tip of the Peloponese. Many of these families lived within their shops either at the back or upstairs. The children would play with the plate dryers which were large metal racks in which plates & cutlery would be placed for washing in the large "Esswood" dish washers. These large racks would rotate & it was like riding a small merry go round. The family would be totally involved in operating the establishment, children assisting with the preparation of meals ie loading up the potato pealer, taking plates out of the dryers etc. Mum & dad would be out the front either serving or supervising. Typical of these families were the Tambakis Brothers Peter, Harry & Theo (also known as Theodore Bros a trend with some early families to change their names to English equivalents). Peter originally emigrated from Kythera in the early 1909 & headed for the cane fields of Queensland (Rockhampton). He also assisted his brothers Harry (1919) & Theo (1924) to emigrate. The brothers ended up in Rockhampton working as waiters & kitchen hands for other Kytherians. There they were to learn the cafe trade.

The Tambakis Brothers then moved to Tamworth in 1928 where they purchased & operated the Golden Bell a cafe bakery in Tamworth's Peel St. They stayed in Tamworth till 1933. In 1933 they moved to Wollongong & purchased the Silver Bell Cafe from the Sansey (Tsaousis) Family ( brother of Nick Tsaousis of the Monterey Milk Bar). Wollongong was frowned upon by many of the early business entrepreneurs as it was very much a working class town. Working class towns in those periods had stigmas attached of prolonged strikes & poverty. It was only the more adventurous business entrepeurers who ventures to Newcastle, Wollongong, Geelong etc.

The site of the Silver Bell was sold in August 1956 to build the "new generation" Coles variety store which stood later as Wollongong Library & now as the Gateway Shopping Centre.

The Tambakis Brothers were then to move to the Black & White Milk Bar on the corner of Crown & Keira Sts, Wollongong. This milk bar operated till 1969 when Harry's death prompted the brothers to sell their business. Initially
the milk bar converted to a 33 flavour ice cream parlour then some 3 years later to a dress boutique & hence to Smith's Kodak.

The descendants of the Tambakis Brothers still reside in Wollongong & it was between 1996 to 1998 Kathy Tambakis operated Take & Shake in Crown Central. The descendants of the Theodore Brothers (Tambakis) pursue very different occupations today typical of other families of this era. The dream of these early Kytherians was to educate their families & many of the second
generation ended up as professionals, academics & some business figures.

Other families of the original cafe society have left the area to assist in the education of their children ie Simos Brothers, Theo, Con & Leo, Theo Pascallis Family or have since passed on. However Andrew Mavromatis (City Delicatessen) continues as one of the original operators having started in the Monterey Milk Bar in 1952. This was an era which existed with the picture theatres, ballroom dancing etc. It was nothing to line up at the cafe for a meal before proceeding to the pictures or dancing. The original cafes had a radio where the cliental would listen to many of the old serials. With the advent of television many of these establishments introduced television, where patrons could watch the early shows ie Bonanza, 77 Sunset Strip, Bob Dyers Pick a Box etc however the advent of cafeterias, hotel counter meals & club bistros saw the decline of these ornate establishments. Clubs were to offer food, entertainment & gambling in one establishment.

Very few of these original places exist, one being the Paragon Cafe in Katoomba (Zacharias Simos), Niagra Café Gundagai (Kastrisos) & Parrys Milkbars in Caringbah & Rockdale (Panarettos Bros) . However a wealth of photographs depicting these establishments exist in many of the local council archives.

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1 Comment

Heather Smith
on 16.09.2015

Hi does anyone know anything about the Athena Club that was above the cafe in crown street Wollongong, just found an old photo with it mentioned on the sign above the cafe.