submitted by George Poulos on 07.06.2004
LOULA Zantiotis, at age 71, still runs the Busy Bee Cafe, (mid 2004), although on a much smaller scale than its heyday. Life-long customers have become old friends and visitors are made welcome with traditional Greek hospitality.
GUNNEDAH'S Busy Bee Cafe is one of few traditional Greek cafes that remained unchanged in an age when technology galloped away with old memories held dear by a generation of baby boomers.
Since the death of her husband Peter in 1996, 71-one-year-old Loula Zantiotis has continued to run the Busy Bee -
although on a much smaller scale - and she is not sure for how much longer she can keep her beloved cafe open.
[For Loula and Peter's Kytherian background see entries under People, subsection Nicknames. See another article on Loula by the Newcastle Herald in this section.
Loula has a positive and vibrant style which I find particularly endearing.
I thank her for providing me with this and other information, and for permission to re-print, and to photograph extensively.]
"This is the only life I know and it is very hard to let it go," she said.
"This is also my home and I enjoy talking with customers and friends who drop in," said Loula.
Growing up in Gunnedah in the post-war era was a time when the Greek cafe thrived and the taste of thick milkshakes, orange freezes and toasted sandwiches was a way of life.
Although early history is sketchy, it is believed the Busy Bee Cafe was built in 1914 as part of the Doolan buildings, with the tea-rooms accessible via an archway through the shop next door, leading to the Grand Central Hotel.
According to a 1926 newspaper advertisement, early proprietors of the Busy Bee, Jim and Andrew Zantiotis, also known as Zantos, sold "choice confectionery, choicest fruits in season, pastry, small goods, soft drinks and hot pies, with meals at all hours and late suppers."
Lambros Zantiotis bought the Busy Bee in the early 1930s and was joined by his son Peter on March 15, 1936, from the Greek island of Kythera in the Ionian Sea. He had come out to Australia on his own as a 12-year-old, with his mother Anastasia and sisters joining the family after the war.
As Gunnedah emerged from the Great Depression, Lambros Zantiotis hired cafe interior designer, Stephen Varvaressos, to install its glamourous art-deco fittings which remain virtually unchanged.
While other Greek cafes in Gunnedah were modernised and altered to cater for a changing generation, the Busy Bee Cafe stayed the same with Peter Zantiotis resisting the urge to install a deep fryer and stove for takeaways at the front of the shop.
Lambros Zantiotis died suddenly in 1953 on a trip to Port Macquarie - his first holiday for many years.
Devastated by the loss of his father, workmate and friend, Peter Zantiotis returned to Greece for the first time since his arrival in Australia.
Meanwhile, his future bride, Theodora (Loula), had migrated to Australia to join her brother and sister at Katoomba, in November, 1954.
Born in 1932 on the Greek island of Kythera, between Pelponis and Crete, Loula had been staying with a relative in Sydney when she met the young Peter Zantiotis at an Easter dance in Paddington Town Hall.
After a whirlwind romance, the couple married in Sydney in 1955 and Peter Zantiotis brought his young bride to Gunnedah, where life revolved around the Busy Bee and later their three children Anastasia (Tessie), Lambrous James (Jim) and Emmanuel Nicholas (Manny).
Unable to speak English, Loula found life in Australia very different to anything she had experienced in her homeland.
"It wasn't just the language, it was the whole way of life," said Loula.
"We formed friendships with other Greek families and we would get together every Sunday night in one of the cafes."
Although life outside the Busy Bee was virtually non-existent, the Greek families made regular trips to Tamworth to attend the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Busy Bee Cafe, in its heyday, employed six people, including a cook, kitchen hands and waiters and opened seven days a week from 7am to 11.30pm.
With easy access to the Grand Central Hotel, the Busy Bee was a stopping-off place for country people, with Mum and the kids dropping in for a refreshing drink while Dad quenched his thirst with the amber liquid next door.
A 1938 menu boasts a tempting range of hot dishes and grills, with "personal attention given."
Curiously, customers could dine on rump steak eggs and chips for the same cost as scrambled eggs and toast, which attracted a charge of one shilling and nine pence - less than 20 cents in today's money.
When Peter Zantiotis died on March 6, 1996, Loula had to take over the management of the Busy Bee and with the support of family and friends she has continued to provide that same friendly service.
"I made quite a few mistakes but people have always been there to help, including my bank and accountant," she said.
The uniqueness of the Busy Bee Cafe has also attracted interest from Sydney's Power House Museum, which recently captured the cafe's interior on film.
Historian Lenny Janiszewski (see entries, this section or use the search engine under "Janiszewski") has also taken great interest in the Busy Bee Cafe, which will enter the pages of Greek-Australian history when he completes his research on Greek cafes.
Janiszewski was recently awarded a $20,000 NSW History Fellowship to continue his 20-year odyssey to chronicle Greek-Australian history through Greek eyes.
According to the Macquarie University historian, oyster saloons, established at the end of the 19th century, were the foundation on which Greek cafes were built with migrants from the island of Kythera eventually spreading to every corner of the state.
"The investment in cafes was driven, at least in part, because Greeks were not permitted on factory floors in large numbers until after World War 2," he said.
ning to and documenting the stories of Greek-Australians for the past 20 years, including Loula Zantiotis, and the fellowship will allow him to record and explore the personal accounts of scores of cafe proprietors and workers.
Leonard Janiszewski and Effy Alexakis have combined their talents to produce an exhibition at the State Library in Sydney, featuring black and white photographs which depict many facets of Greek Australians under the title In Their Own Image: Greek Australians.
The photographs are collected in a stunning book which has been published to complement the photographic exhibition.
In Their Own Image captures the stories, the successes, the conflicts and the previously unrecognised diversity of Australia's Greek migration and settlement.
>From the arrival in Australia of seven Greek convicts in 1829 to the present day, says Janiszewski, Greek-Australians have played a vital part in the development and unique culture of their adopted country.
Today the Busy Bee Cafe stands as a solid testament to the hard-working Greeks who left their homeland in search of a better life and established tens of hundreds of cafes across Australia.
The flood of fast-food outlets like McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken is threatening the very existence of Greek cafes and with the exodus of young Australian-born Greeks to the coastal fringes, a tradition held dear by many Australians in country towns is being lost.
Loula and Peter Zantiotis worked long and hard in the Busy Bee Cafe to give their children an alternative to cafe life and the young ones have chosen paths far removed from their childhood.
Tessie (Dowes) works in an employment office in Sydney while Manny also lives in Sydney and works as a computer technician.
Jim Zantiotis is a school counsellor in Wagga Wagga and the father of Loula's three grandsons, Zacharay, Alex and Nicholas.
On Australia Day 1997, Loula Zantiotis accepted a citation from Mayor Noel O'Brien, which paid tribute to the hard-working Greek-Australian, Peter Zantiotis, who "contributed greatly to Gunnedah's social and cultural history, as a warm and generous representative of his ancestry and a proud Australian." [See full text in a separate entry, this section.]
Namoi Valley Independent, [Gunnedah , NSW]
Tuesday, January 6th, 2004, pages 4 & 5.
Produced by permission of the author Ms. Marie Hobson, and the editor Ron (Rocky) McLean. I thank them both deeply.
Namoi Valley Independent.
Gunnedah Publishing Company Pty Ltd
287 Connadilly St.,
02 6742 0455
Email, Gunnedah Publishing
MARIE HOBSON'S MOTIVATION TO WRITE NUMEROUS ARTICLES ON GUNNEDAH'S KYTHERIAN-GREEKS:
I have always found the Greeks fascinating. I grew up In Gunnedah where we had constant contact with Greek cafe owners at the Busy Bee, Acropolis, Monterey, Tourist and White Rose Cafes and the Chip Inn. There was also a little cafe near the Civic Theatre which I believe was run by Greeks. I think it was called the Oasis but that is a story I will be following up later.
I have always loved the beautiful, friendly nature of the Greeks.
As teenagers we were allowed to call them by their first name, and they were
always happy to see you. My parents were wonderful Christians and we followed their example in treating everyone the same, so there was never a thought of discrimination. I know many families suffered from it when they came to Australia.
I have always loved Greek history and mythology and the country holds an
irrestible lure for me. I hope to visit it in the next few years.
You are doing a great job with the website.
Marie Hobson. (16/06/2004.).
submitted by Effy Alexakis And Leonard Janiszewski on 27.02.2005
Loula (Theodora) Zantiotis (nee Cassimatis) still runs the cafe with the assistance of female waiting staff. However as a widow whose children have left home and entered other occupations, Loula perceives the cafe’s days are numbered, unless it is acquired by a young family interested in preserving its food catering tradition. One of the limited number of classic Greek cafes which have survived almost intact, the Busy Bee’s exterior and interior (furnishings and food catering equipment) are fine examples of the early Art Deco style.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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