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History > General History > A Gourmet’s Guide to Lismore - 2

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submitted by Peter Tsicalas on 12.07.2005

A Gourmet’s Guide to Lismore - 2

The Feros Fruit Shop (54 Magellan)

Peter George Feros (Pikouli) had been doing a good trade here, mainly fruit but with a milk bar sideline, since 1946 when he came up from Ballina to go into partnership with his cousin, Jack Jim Feros. Jack, a Lismore resident since 1919 and an old hand in the fruit retailing and wholesaling business, retired to Byron Bay in 1951, leaving Peter, and by then his wife, Helen, nee Prineas, and sons George and Phillip, to reverse the fruit/milkbar priority.

Peter had landed in 1939 to join his brother Mick who had been trading as Feros Bros at Ballina since 1923, initially with Nick Jim Feros and later with Nick’s nephew, Peter Emmanuel Miliotis. Helen’s arrival at Mascot in 1947, a month after her sons’ arrival at Fremantle by ship, was immortalised with a photo in the Sydney Morning Herald and a story on the rebranded species named ‘New Australians’. Their story is one shared by many trying to escape Kythera post war. Peter had sent money across to secure passage but they only got as far as Port Said before finding that the massive demand on shipping by the huge number of refugees escaping Europe meant a 6mths wait for a berth. In the meantime they were stuck in an hotel, which quickly drained resources requiring Peter to take out a loan and negotiate a complicated transfer. George and Phillip eventually got a troop carrier to Fremantle, from where a frantic Peter displayed great initiative in tracking them down and organising their air passage to Lismore.

His son George was ready to fly the coop by 1959 and was installed in Denny Panaretto’s old shop just down the street, while Phillip had to bide his time until 1971 before being handed the reins of the family business. Like Harry Crethar, he had been assessing the changing nature of Lismore catering for some time and had his own ideas on the direction of the business, the focus of which he promptly changed, adding delicatessen items and the like and, appropriately enough, renaming the joint ‘The Feros Deli.’ He subsequently established ‘Feros Summerland Tropical Fruit Salad’ in a shop in Ewing Street, which turned out to be so successful that he sold the Deli to the Spartan, Leo Vlahos, in 1978 to concentrate on marketing this new taste sensation. He waved goodbye to Lismore in 1985 and nowadays usually can be found on his fishing boat somewhere off Brisbane.

In the meantime Lismore’s fickle tastes had continued to evolve, forcing Leo Vlahos, the consort of Marli Petrellis of Mullumbimby, to reorientate the business towards fast food, the place re-emerging as ‘Leo’s Take Away.’ He moved to Casino in the late 80s, after which a succession of Greek proprietors from South Australia had a go, including the final stayers, Theo and Sofia Tertipis, originally of Kalamata, who took over in 1991 and have worked 9AM to 8PM, 7 days a week, ever since. They are now the only Greeks left in Lismore’s very competitive café game after Spiro Perdecaris recently gave up on Cappuccino’s in Molesworth, established by that new Lismore entrepreneur, Peter Coronakes, in partnership with his sister Maria Crethar, none other than the love of our Harry’s life, in 1989.

While the deterioration in the passing trade appears to have stabilized, Sophia’s toasted sandwiches, long recognized as the best in Lismore, had always retained a loyal following. Fast food remains the anchor of the business, but Sophia’s finesse is reflected in the subtle name change to ‘Leo’s Food Bar’, under which name it continues to trade.

You can now enjoy your food al fresco on the seating in the pedestrian mall, which a kind council has recently created out of Magellan Street. While not yet rescuing Lismore from the doldrums this relaxing street landscaping is pointing towards a new paradigm for the CBD.

After much discussion the adjudicators have awarded a 7 for alertness to changing trends.

Back to the present, Harry now comes to Carrington Street, which leads into a maze of lanes in the interior of the block. He doesn’t turn in however, merely waving to his soccer team-mate, Peter Dendrinos, packing bananas fresh from the ripening sheds, and to Nellie Robertson across the road at ‘Keys Milk Bar’ making one of her magic milkshakes. Her masterpieces are distinctly different to any other offerings around town and the competing milk bars, let alone the satisfied customers, can never figure out why. Like ‘The Mecca Pie’ and later ‘The Crethar Hamburger’, and the word unduplicatability, they had that inexplicable y factor.

Carrington Enterprises

The banana ripening rooms business was established by the Ithacan Spiro Dendrinos in 1945 after selling out of the Capitol café partnership. A couple of years later he was joined by Eric and Jim Cassis (Cassianos), ex Ithacan banana growers of Billinudgel, followed by Eric’s son-in-law, Leo Manias, in 1949. In 1952 Spiro’s cousin, Peter Dendrinos, joined the team by acquiring Leo’s shares and together the four partners ran the business through to 1969 when they went their separate ways. By this time the moribund banana game was way beyond recovery. (And again demonstrating the interconnectedness of the Greek community, Leo’s daughter, Pandora, married Andrew Caponas, the son of the entrepreneurial Archie of Mullumbimby, while his sister-in-law, Zeta Cassis, crowned Miss Floral Queen in the Lismore’s first Floral Carnival in 1954, married Jack Stathis.)

The interior of the block was also the ex-home of the famous Fardouly ice works. When Theo fired up those compressors the noise could be heard in Hades, with all surrounding buildings dancing to the music along with the residents’ fillings. At this time the place is now the cold storage warehouse for the Terakes fruit and veggie wholesale enterprise.

The longest serving shop-keeper of Carrington was Jim Crethar, the eldest son of Nick and Florrie (nee Panaretto) of Casino, who recently retired after a marathon 50yrs at the helm of the Lismore Sports Store (and is now in his 34th year as treasurer and board member at The Worker’s Club.)

So after that digression Harry continues down Magellan to see whether he can get a handle on the enduring success of the Mecca café, the major non-Greek competition challenging at the middle to top end of the scale.

The Mecca Café (80 Magellan)

The Mecca was re-established on this site in 1935 by Jack Forrester and Cliff Gray, son of Walter Gray, one of the long serving Lismore café proprietors and a caterer of some renown. Walter’s rise to the top started in 1924 when he acquired the posh business of Alderman Smith, himself a caterer of 28yrs standing, and shortly afterwards moved north on Molesworth to establish the even more posh Elite Café, which placed him on a footing with Theo Fardouly at the nearby Olympia. They were friendly rivals, with Walter serving as long time secretary of the ‘Northern Rivers Retail Refreshment Room Employers’ Association’, formed by Theo in mid 1924 as a result of new awards for restaurant employees, which, in addition to the increase in the standard rate for the ordinary 48hr working week, granted considerable increases for overtime and the banning of junior labour. Alas, their efforts to persuade the Industrial Court that they had the right to work their employees to death fell on deaf ears and thereafter the ‘help wanted’ adverts for café staff dried up. (Even so, the cafes remained the biggest employers of underpaid females, who were also the most sort-after employees amongst the pubs and boarding houses in the region.) This was at a time when customers were beginning to tighten their belts following the first major collapse of the banana industry and the rapidly decreasing returns from dairying. The café proprietors now were compelled to pay a minimum male wage of £2/6/6 per week, but coupled with more opportunists entering the game to try and earn a quid in the dwindling job market, ('buying a job'), they couldn’t pass on the costs. This increasing competition, albeit with a high café turnover and failure rate, resulted in the standard three-course meal remaining at 1/6d for the next 20yrs.

The nett result for Theo and Walter was the closing of their large elaborate dining rooms, shedding their large attendant staffs, and concentrating on delivering simpler fare from their street level outlets, although Theo by this time had sublet to his koumbaro, Archie Gavrily. Nevertheless, both cafes were on the market when the Vlismas Bros rolled into town in 1929 looking for an opportunity. It was a laid down misere in their choice of Walter’s concern, Theo’s being stuck with 1911 era stuff, including the original automatic carbonator. Theo then threw in the towel, his place becoming home to Lang’s Shoe Shop.

Walter immediately came to Magellan, going into partnership with the master pastry chef, Jack Forrester, to open the Mecca in the brand new ‘Frith Building’, later redubbed the ‘Karavas Building’ upon purchase by Nick Crones. Shortly afterwards son Cliff took command and 5yrs years later the new partnership moved a few doors down, at which time Cliff left the day-to-day management to Jack who went on to develop the famous Mecca Pie, the staple for most Lismoreiots for many years. To this day the recipe remains a closely guarded family secret. (But a secret revealed: Unknown to the customers, the fish and chips on the menu were cooked-up a couple of doors down by Denny Panaretto.)

In 1937 Cliff and Jack started their upgrade, along with most other cafes in the region, including the on-going fine-tuning of their major Greek competitors in Molesworth. But where Angelo Crethar had gone rearwards, Cliff and Jack emulated the Capitol and went sideways by acquiring the shop next door, knocking down the wall and creating a wonderful airy space in the art moderne style. It was a courageous decision considering street frontage values, most Greeks opting for the long narrow look for this very reason, but paid dividends in popularity and longevity as Angelo’s style went out of vogue. Like Angelo, they also built on top, although choosing to turn the space into flats.

And there it still is today, the centre-piece of the new Magellan makeover, with outdoor dining giving the street a cosmopolitan ambience, and retaining a little of that earlier period of elegant café architecture and leisurely dining, earning a 9 rating for lasting quality service.

A Gourmet’s Guide to Lismore - 2 - Mecca 1960
[Mecca Café 1960. By this time the Mecca had supplanted the Greeks to become the most modern, and arguably the most popular, café in Lismore, retaining a leading position to this day.]

And what did Harry learn? With two bob in his pocket he could never hope to duplicate the space, but noted the importance of having a house speciality, and thus his mind began to shape the Crethar Hamburger.

His next port of call is Denny Panaretto’s old shop, now in the hands of Theo Tzortzopoulos (Poulos).

Denny’s Fish Shop (88 Magellan)

Denny Victor Panaretto, seeing a niche not filled by anyone else in Magellan, relocated his successful fish ‘n’ chips formula and well-known brand name, ‘Dennys’, from Keen Street to this new location in 1936, eventually achieving a 7 in the fast food category. He lived upstairs, later sharing with his café helpers, his sister and brother-in-law, Calypso and Peter Christianos, until they moved across to South Lismore to open a shop in the late 30s, although there’s a suspicion they took over the management at Magellan in the early 40s while Denny tried a short-lived venture at Murwillumbah with ‘Denny’s Deli.’

Denny, first born of the entrepreneurial Victor of Moree, heir to the Panaretto millions, a lively bloke, fancy-footed dancer, snappy dresser and paid up member of the horse racing fraternity, was finally persuaded out of bachelorhood in 1944 when he married Alice Peter Coroneo of Perth. Together they ran Dennys until 1948 when they passed the shop to Theo Poulos and took over the Christiano café in South Lismore, where they remained into the early 1970s before retiring to Perth.

An intermittent assistant and partner over the years was his brother Jack, the first of the Panarettos into Lismore in the early 20s. He worked on and off for Angelo Crethar for many years and is believed to have been with Angelo when he opened a café in Keen Street in the late 20s, passing it to Denny around 1930. Sometime in the mid 30s he took over the Tudor cafe, possibly in silent partnership with Nick Crones and the backing of Denny. He apparently was still trading there when he enlisted for WW2 service, but after duty in New Guinea was on a disability pension, spending time working in almost every Greek shop in town collecting money to support his favourite charities, the bookies at the race course and the dealers at the card tables, until moving to Casino to live with his brother Paul in the mid 60s, cashing in his chips a few years later.

In the meantime, Theo Poulos, believed to have come to town from Nyngan around 1940, served WW2 then worked around various cafes, mainly with Angelo Crethar, until relieving Denny. He carried on the successful fast food formula, scrupulously banking the profits at the Sargent and Coronakes wagering societies, until 1959 when he passed his customer list to George Peter Feros and disappeared somewhere. George renamed the place Summerland Sea Foods and catered to the fish ‘n’ chips connoisseurs for 11yrs until the mere sight of another potato caused him to curl into the foetal position, prompting him to pass the peeler to an Anglo-Australian proprietor, who lasted a couple of years before presenting the shop to a kitchen implement retailer.

Nevertheless, Harry already had absorbed the low overheads and staff requirements of the simplicity rule, and pressed on towards Nick Crones’ old shop, the original site of the Mecca.

The New City Milk Bar (92 Magellan)

Upon landing in 1923, 18yr old Nick Angelo Crones, the first cousin of the numerous Coroneos running around the Richmond district, went to Ballina to work for his fellow Karavitiko, probable schoolmate and other first cousin, Angelo Crethar. He followed Angelo to Lismore shortly afterwards and over the next 30yrs was variously his employee, manager, partner, associate and fellow property investor.

He had seen a niche for a second Magellan milk bar in 1947 and re-established a catering outlet on the old Mecca site, shortly afterwards acquiring the whole three-storey edifice and rechristening it the ‘Karavas Building’. His shop front however, was baptised with a more comprehensible name, the New City, so anointed to commemorate the declaration of Lismore as a city in Sep1946 (with the adoption of an ironic new motto: "He who does not advance retrogresses”.) Nick died in 1953 and his wife, Matina (nee Sophios), who had come to Lismore in 1937 and almost immediately caused him to go weak at the knees, then took the family to Sydney, leaving her cousin, Themistokles (aka Sam) John Fardouly, to keep the place ticking over until it was sold to an Anglo-Australian proprietor.

[Matina was another of those who had suffered tragic loss through Herr Hitler’s rush of blood to the head. Starvation and malnutrition were widespread in Greece by the winter of 1942 and her father and two sisters were amongst those many who died. Post war estimates put the death toll, through starvation, malnutrition and disease alone, at 450,000.]

The Australian proprietor surrendered in 1957, handing the place to Emmanuel Cassianos, an ex banana grower of Mullumbimby, the brother of the Carrington Cassis and the brother-in-law of Patra Kery Bavea. Manuel lasted until 1963 before Sydney beckoned, the New City then reverting to another of the ubiquitous clothing outlets.

Although unable to match the milkshake, it was on a par with Nellie’s, perhaps a little more spacious and with the location advantage of being on the inside of the block and attracting more passing trade. An equal 7.

Harry now continues to the corner of Keen Street and sees before him the High School, with 1000 delinquents creating mayhem in the grounds, and his brain cells start firing. ‘Markets’ is the thought that pops into his head, and the slogan ‘Location, Location, Location’ (which he subsequently gave away free to the real estate agents, very odd behaviour for a Greek.) So with heart thumping he quickens his pace and advances along Keen to the site of the old Monterey, one of the smaller old-style cafes that covered all bases, from the traditional three-course meal to retailing lollies and cigars.

The Monterey Café (153 Keen)

The Monterey was established in 1935 by Peter Nick Crethary, an ex Khartoum cotton merchant and WW1 sergeant in the Greek army. He had landed in 1922 and worked for his cousin Peter Angelo Crithary at Glen Innes until acquiring his own business a year or so later. But the bitterly cold Tablelands’ winters eventually got the better of him. So with his new bride, Anna John Coroneo, he followed his shipmate, Harry Jim Crethar, to Lismore in 1929, initially to take over the management of the Apollo Café (131 Keen) across the doorway of the Apollo Hall entrance from the larger Glen Milk Bar. While these two light refreshment outlets catered to different niche clientele they cut across each other too often for Peter’s comfort, prompting the acquisition of his own kitchen-equipped Monterey as the Depression receded.

A Gourmet’s Guide to Lismore - 2 - Montery 1
[Monterey Café 1939. L to R: Matina Crethary, Peter Crethary, Grace Collins.]

[Digression: The lease of both the Apollo Café and Apollo Hall was taken over by the great ballroom dancing impresario, Jacob H. Charleston, in about 1927. He initially installed managers to run the café until becoming hands-on in the late 1930s, but finally closing the place towards the end of the war. In the meantime the Hall, along with the Federalette, was the leading Lismore dance venue until the Riviera came along in 1936. Through the 40s to the mid 50s the Saturday night hop crowds were huge, with these three venues dominating the scene, some fans attending to simply listen to the great music of the house bands. As with the post theatre patrons, the cafes had a symbiotic relationship with the hyped up post dance boppers, each group spilling over into the cafes to round off the night’s experience. And all passed away within a few years of each other.]

The heyday of the Monterey was the war years when Americans from the camps around Tweed Heads and the ships calling in at Ballina, the Dutch and Indonesians from Casino, home grown Australians from Evans Head, and assorted Filipinos and others, were on the prowl for R & R outlets, finding Lismore to have the best hoppin’ and bobbin’ venues in the region. ‘The Riveria’ dance hall down the river end of Magellan became the ‘in’ place for cool jazz and demonstrations by the Americans of the Lindy Hop and the very latest Swing and Jitterbug moves. (The women swooned and the males fumed.) The cafes benefited concomitantly, but the long hours due to lack of staff, increasing hassles over rationing, quotas, electricity restrictions, price fixing, and a host of minor irritants, prompted Peter to scale back the Monterey in late 1944 and concentrate on the Star Court. By 1948 it was still trotting along at half pace when he decided to close it down after finding no willing buyers, subsequently holding a huge auction, where everything down to the lino on the floor was offered, and walking away from the business.

[The year 1948 wasn’t a propitious one for any proprietor. Early that year saw another straw added to the café proprietor’s load when the new Restaurant Employees State Award made it compulsory for staff to be given two full days a week off. As paying penalty rates for working in excess of five days wasn’t acceptable, daily adverts for additional cafe staff were a regular feature for a while. Then came the referendum of mid 1948 that rejected the Government’s power to continue price fixing and, with the progressive ending of rationing and quotas on various commodities, market forces took over and the price of everything rose. This, in conjunction with higher wages due to near full employment, meant places like the Monterey were doomed without costly makeovers and reorientation, although the three-course meal remained a menu staple.

For some reason the standard three courser continued as a culinary compulsion for country customers through to the late 50s, all demanding value (ie quantity) for money. Through collusion the price at all cafes throughout the whole region remained consistent at 1/3d through to 1920 and 1/6d to 1941. Thereafter increases were sharp and frequent; 2/- in 1941, 2/6d in 1945, 3/6d in 1948 until things leveled off at 4/6d in 1953. By 1957 the price had climbed marginally to 5/-, the proprietors keeping a lid on things in the face of the clubs’ competition, but thereafter the remaining customers baulked and the old three courser faded away.]

In the meantime the Monterey became one of the favoured haunts of the serviceman. Notwithstanding Matina and Mary, the popularity was due in part to Peter’s remarkable ability to speak eight languages, the large Italian community, of necessity keeping a low profile (except for the brightly red clad POWs on work relief schemes), also being amongst the beneficiaries when he helped out with shopping and general administrative problems.

The Monterey provided four waitresses as war brides, three to the USA and one to Holland, and post war hundreds of letters accumulated, mainly from the USA, typically addressed to Miss ….., c/- The Monterey Café, Lismore, Australia, perhaps leading to a few more liaisons.

And Matina and Mary? They started serving meals at the Monterey at breakfast time before going to the Star Court, finishing up back at home base way after midnight, then deja vue all over again a few hours later. Sunday afternoon ‘happy hour’, when the guitars and accordions appeared, became a Monterey institution, attracting all nationalities for the conviviality. The servicemen would tap on the window before they opened, the Americans enamoured of their ham and eggs for early breakfast, while their mother Anna gave the Greek-American soldiers a taste of mum’s home cooking.

[And another digression: One of Lismore’s attractions for the American servicemen was the quaint taxi service. The oldest stand in Woodlark Street was still reserved for the horse and buggy service, petrol rationing increasing the demand through WW2. But the romantic and nostalgic Americans, waving fists’ full of funny money, tied up the rigs by hiring for all day tours around the traps, generating a bit of discord with some but keeping the café proprietors smiling with orders for picnic lunches.

And by the bye: Jumping on the American bandwagon was Bert Cockerell, with a chemist shop a couple of doors from the Church of Christ in Keen Street, who installed a soda fountain into his pharmacy in the early war years, thus reintroducing the American ‘Soda Fountain Drugstore’ concept to Lismore. He was still competing with the milkbars and dispensing lemon sodas and other elixirs from the thing in the mid 50s.]

In 1944, after living all those years above the cafe, the Cretharys moved to a house down the end of Keen opposite the Workers Club and by the early 50s had semi retired. Peter was a foundation member of the ‘Lismore and District Orthodox Community’ and upon his death in 1958 was honoured to have Archbishop Athenagoras, The Archbishop of London and West Europe, conduct the funeral service, with the less than Very Reverend Chrys Boyazoglu, Archimandreti of the Greek Orthodox Church of Southern Queensland and Northern NSW, in the background.

The Monterey remained a vacant shop for some time, subsequently housing a succession of businesses, one an Italian fruiterer, until it was demolished around 1970 and the Mandarin Palace Chinese Restaurant erected, the first purpose built restaurant in Lismore in yonks and still trading strongly.

[Psst. While Peter Nick mainly called himself Crethar, like all the Kritharis around the place, the name used here is Crethary to help differentiate between all the cunning crethures. Harry’s family (his father Eric Victor and uncle Angleo) carried the nickname ‘Balomenos’, while the only other known parachouklï, ‘Zouzounas’, belonged to Peter John Crethar (‘Crithary’) of Woodenbong and earlier of Lismore. (And he married Fofo Nick Crethary, the sister of Peter Nick. And… You know how it goes.) DNA testing seems the only solution.]

After much contemplation on the capricious nature of catering, Harry moves on to assess the convoluted Coronakes enterprises.

The Coronakes Wonder Bar (141 Keen)

Phase one

Paul Coronakes, a red headed Corfiot (the family suspects a Scottish soldier somewhere in the background), landed pre WW1 and mainly based himself around Murwillumbah until coming to Lismore in 1919 to acquire the Canberra Cafe. After the Greeks were given a hiding in the Great Barrow Wars of 1923 he filled the fruit and veggie vacuum by establishing ‘The Lismore Fruit Exchange’, pretty soon undercutting the existing wholesalers (by then all Anglo-Australian again) and supplying a heap of retailers around town and outlying villages, as well as getting a little over-extended by opening a retail and wholesale branch at Murbah. The following year he moved next door and created two departments, one devoted to fruit and veggie retailing and the other as an upgraded refreshment room business. By 1925 he had his own buying agents around the state, bypassing the markets and purchasing direct from growers, enabling bedrock prices and almost complete domination of the wholesale distribution business over the Richmond-Tweed region, with his lorries doing regular supply runs to almost every village and hamlet around the traps. In 1927 he opened another shop in Molesworth, a combination refreshment room and fruit retailer, and in 1928 acquired a 12 acre plot out along the Bexhill road, where he employed Italian market gardeners to keep his enterprise supplied with fresh veggies.

But by then the great fruit gluts had started, particularly around the Riverina region where the growers were overproducing on a par with the local dairy farmers. The Griffith Producers Coop was even running its own trains around the state, stopping at almost every siding to flog the stuff direct from the carriage. Mountains of rotting fruit appeared on railway platforms everywhere. And also by this time the canned fruit industry was making great inroads (Eat more fruit for your own and your country’s sake, said one of their adverts.) By 1928 the local rag had stopped navel gazing and started to notice what was happening in the rest of the state, commenting on work relief schemes and unemployment plans elsewhere, which for the 68 unemployed fruit industry workers at Leeton consisted of a week’s rations and a road map showing the way out of town. The following years were a dreadful period for everyone, not least for the Southern Europeans as ‘White Australia’ again began to get an airing.

A Gourmet’s Guide to Lismore - 2 - Canberra 5
[Coronakes Café, Woodlark Street, 1932. Paul Coronakes behind counter.]

Paul then scaled back his fruit operation and cranked up his ovens to aggressively wholesale cakes, pastries and pies, and in 1931 gave his Woodlark cafe another makeover to re-emerge as the ritziest establishment in town before the rise of the Crethar. Shortly afterwards however, he sold the Molesworth business, also refurbished in 1931, to concentrate on building back the fruit business and by the mid 1930s was in a position to again deal exclusively in fruit, selling up in Woodlark to operate from a new outlet at 139 Keen. But things were still ruthlessly competitive; the new site was just down from where a barrowman had set up on a vacant lot with the slogan Buy White Australian First emblazoned across his cart, and just up from where the later ‘Black & White Café’ was ‘Managed and Staffed by Australians’. A couple of years later he relocated next door to 141 Keen.

A Gourmet’s Guide to Lismore - 2 - Coronakes 1937
[Lismore Fruit Exchange, Keen Street, 1937. Paul Coronakes in suit]

By this time though, other Greeks in the region had made inroads into his wholesale business; The Feros Bros of Byron Bay, Mick Feros of Ballina, the Sargents/Terakes of Lismore, the Varella and Angouras Bros of Murbah all had a carrier businesses and had carved out bits of his territory. Nevertheless, he remained the major player and was still known as the ‘The Fruit King’ upon his death in 1940, at which time he had three trucks running around the traps on supply runs.

Phase Two

His nephew, the entrepreneurial Spiro, then took the reins, but fed up with the inconvenience of using the back lane for loading and unloading the lorries, subsequently moved the business across the road to the large shop at 144 Keen. The space turned out to be far more than needed, so he had the brainwave of dividing it down the centre and creating ‘The Continental Greek Club’, later simply ‘The Continental Club’ as it became a socialising venue for the increasing number of Southern Europeans, mainly Italian, beginning to appear around the district in the post war years.

The club initially consisted of a couple of billiard tables, then a few card tables appeared and before he knew it high rollers and shady characters were appearing from as far afield as Brisbane. Sheep stations began to change hands at the baccarat and manila tables, and marathon card games lasted up to three days and nights, all overseen by a manager who was a military genius on camouflage, so much so that the police never stumbled across it. Jack Sargent became manager from 1954 after closing his similarly orientated Tattersals Club across the road, followed by Tasso Pagonis, alias ‘Phar Lap’, around 1958.

Meanwhile his faithful lorry continued its regular runs to the Brisbane markets, thankfully knowing the way without any input from Spiro, often sighted bleary-eyed at the wheel after the card marathons. And to the chagrin of all Lismore males his lucky streak continued, winning the ultimate hand, that of the exquisite Matina Crethary, in 1946. At this time he still had three trucks and was doing an increasing amount of carrier work for the Banana Growers Federation, his drivers sometimes transporting the yellow peril all the way to the Melbourne markets.

[The wedding was Lismore’s social event of the year, with over 300 guests gathering at the Apollo Hall to party into the wee hours under the influence of serene jazz provided by the famous Kewpie Harris Band. Some aficionados credit the great Kewpie, who formed his first local band in Ballina around 1919, with being the father of Australian jazz. He retired as the resident bandleader at the Riv in 1950/51 and the place suffered a drop in popularity until his ex apprentice, Stan Chilcott, previously a leader of house bands at the Federalette and Apollo, took over the lease in 1956. A great era ended in 1965 when the Riv finally succumbed to the rock band ascendancy, while the Apollo was reoriented in 1953 upon the retirement of Jacob Charleston. (One of the new attractions at the Apollo was schoolboy boxing tournaments, with 10yr olds beating the crap out of each other in the name of ‘character building’.)]

Around 1948, frustrated with the lack of passing trade on the outside of the block, he returned the retail side of the business to 141 Keen, renaming the joint ‘Tropicana’. Shortly afterwards however, he found fruit retailing becoming very competitive with the entry of the Italians into the game, prompting him, along with other Greek fruiterers, to turn half the shop into a milk bar, the place re-emerging as the ‘Coronakes Wonder Bar’, incorporating the very latest in milkshake and sodaology, and so named by Matina after her favourite song from Al Jolson’s similarly titled hit movie ‘Wonder Bar.’ A little later the remaining fruit was given the flick and a series of 4 seater cubicles installed down the side opposite the wondrous bar. But after a couple of years he left the place in the hands of a manager to concentrate on his wholesale fruit business and the place started to suffer a little neglect.

A Gourmet’s Guide to Lismore - 2 - Coronakes Wonder Bar
[Coronakes Wonder Bar 1950. L to R: Gwen Griffin, Unknown, June Sharp, Barbara Hill, Francis Licklis]

Enter Harry Crethar exclaiming ‘Eureka!’ He’d found it, the perfect location and formula for his dream shop. After heavy negotiations with the cunning Spiro, Harry and his father Eric took out a loan dwarfing the GDP of Greece and the following year, 1956, made Spiro an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Phase Three

Spiro moved next door (143 Keen), taking the ‘Tropicana’ name with him, and decided to resume business as a pure fruit retailer, any other option being out of the question due Harry being built like a Sumo Wrestler. On the wholesale front he and Nick Terakes of Sargent’s Markets, together with Mick Feros who relocated to Lismore from Ballina in 1955, carved up the Richmond between them. Amongst other markets, Spiro won the ironic contract to supply Woolworths, nowadays, along with Coles, retailers of 70% of the nation’s fruit and veggies and Terminators of the independent fruiterers. He drew his last card at the Continental in 1962, leaving Matina to sell Tropicana to an Anglo-Australian proprietor while she got on with nurturing the next generation of Coronakes entrepreneurs, one of whom, Alex, subsequently returned the business to family hands.

The Continental went into receivership in 1966 and was acquired as a going concern by the Italian, Ron Fiore, but closed forever 18mths later after a series of burglaries and boofheaded acts of vandalism. The building was absorbed into McKenzie Bros second hand business and a new Continental Club, exclusively Italian and devoted to the genteel sport of Bocce only, opened around the corner. Shortly afterwards the Continental Balls, featuring all nationalities, faded away. They had become major social events at the Apollo Hall from 1954 and were also mega affairs on the social calendar at Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah, where post war migration also had brought many different national groups, mainly to be found in the banana plantations.

Alex, who had started in the fruit business at age five, spent a few years with the Terakes at Sargents Markets, amongst other places, until going back to work at the Tropicana after it had been resurrected by the Sheaffs as a fruit shop under the original name. Following a few other adventures he returned again to the Sheaffs, buying the business in 1989. In 1994, again in need of a more convenient rear lane access for the wholesale side of the business, he took the trade name, long synonymous with quality fruit, with him when he acquired the shop of the Italian Pilatis family in Woodlark Street. And then in 1997 everything came full circle when he returned the Tropicana to its original home at 141 Keen, with a Thai Take Away as his new neighbour at 143. And there he is today, carrying on the near 85yr old Coronakes tradition, the only ‘Greek’ left in the fruiterers’ business and the only independent fruiterer left on the block, deflecting the Coles/Woolies firepower with superior service and produce.

The camera now pans back to 1956 and focuses on young Harry behind the counter at the renamed ‘Crethar Wonder Bar,’ later colloquially known as ‘Harrys.’ Although outside the time line, no story on Lismore catering would be complete without mention of, pause for drum roll and to make the sign of the cross, the legendary Crethar Hamburger, Lismore’s culinary gift to the nation along with The Mecca Pie and The Nellie Milkshake.

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