The Block - 2

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Gourmet's Guide to Lismore

Chapter 2

The Block - Magellan Street

The Feros Fruit Shop
Carrington Enterprises
The Mecca Cafe

Denny's Sea Food Cafe
The New City Milk Bar

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 following the death of his wife Vasiliki (nee Samios, sister of the Samios Bros earlier of Mullumbimby and Bangalow). (Jack subsequently came down with Parkinson's disease, the catalyst for his eccentric brother George to start his obsessive fund raising activities to establish nursing/aged care facilities at the Bay. By the time of Jack's death in 1969 George's campaign to turn the dream into reality was well-advanced.)

Meanwhile Peter, and by then his wife, Helen, nee Prineas, and sons George and Phillip, set about reversing 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.

Magellan Street 1949

Feros Fruit Mart second shop after curved roof over Nesbitt Lane.
(Courtesy Drew Collection)

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 Cappuccinos 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.

Nellie Robertson (nee Keys)
Keys Milkbar Magellan St., 1931 to 1961


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, which at this time is the cold storage warehouse for the Terakes fruit and veggie wholesale enterprise. When Theo fired up those compressors the cacophony could be heard in Hades, with all surrounding buildings dancing to the music along with the residents’ fillings. (Another thunderous noise heard all over town occurred in Feb1954 when the gas-filled ripening rooms exploded, blowing most of the roof off and buckling the brick walls, and leaving Jim Cassis in hospital to lick his wounds.)

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, but remains the longest serving treasurer and board member at The Worker’s Club. (And in 2008 was awarded the OAM for his contribution to youth, service and progress organisations.)

Caravan Cafe 1950
Sited at the South West corner of
Carrington and Magellan 1947 - 54
The power came from the Terania Shire building.

(Courtesy Meg Shields via Syd Drew)


The Mecca Café (80 Magellan)

The Mecca was re-established on this site in mid1933 by James 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 went into property development/speculation, one of his Magellan investments in 1930 being silent partnership with the master pastry chef, James Forrester, in Forrester’s Cafe in the brand new ‘Frith Building’, later redubbed the ‘Karavas Building’ upon purchase by Nick Crones. Shortly afterwards son Cliff Gray took a more hands-on position with James and 3yrs years later the new partnership moved a few doors down, at which time Cliff left the day-to-day management to James (aka Tommy) 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.)

Mecca 1937. L to R: Unknown, Ruby Phillips, Chris Robertson,
Anne Stevens


Mecca 1941. L to R: Glady Virtue, Daphne Myers, Shiela Speers,
Chris Robertson, Dora Davidson

In 1937 Cliff and James 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 James emulated the Capitol and subsequently 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. James retired in 1947 leaving Cliff to oversee progressive upgrades.

And there it still is today, the centre-piece of the new Magellan makeover, with outdoor eating and coffee sipping 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.

Mecca Café ~1965
By this time the Mecca had displaced the Greeks from the top of the food chain, becoming the most modern, and arguably the most popular, café in Lismore.
(Courtesy Cliff Gray via Sid Drew)

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 Sea Food Cafe (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 ~1952 when they passed the shop to Theo Poulos and took over the troubled Christiano café in South Lismore, evolving the place into a 'corner store' and remaining into the early 1970s before retiring to Perth.


Lismore Civic Hall 1967
L to R attending the party of the year: Victor Panaretto, Denny Panaretto, unknown, Nitsa Coroneo of Perth,
Mrs Alice Denny Panaretto, unknown.
Jim Crethar in profile behind Victor.
(Courtesy Harry Crethar)

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. 


Lismore 1967
L to R featuring at the same party:
Mrs Frosso Eric Crethar (Harry's mum),
Harry Crethar and his lovely bride
Maria Coronakes,
Mrs Margaret George Feros, George Peter Feros, Mrs Helen Peter Feros (nee Prineas), Peter George Feros.
(Courtesy Harry Crethar)

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 (retaining the ironic 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 capitulated to a clothing retailer in 1963 and spent a couple of years working at the Vogue before Sydney beckoned. The New City site has since undergone many makeovers, but never again as a café.

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. 



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