Next month sees the release of an Australian movie called The Wog Boy 2, sequel to the 2000 comedy by Nick Giannopoulus The Wog Boy. Set on the Greek island of Mykonos, it may well cause a resurgence of interest in both the island and Greek culture itself. Of the movie, Nick has been quoted as saying that it was inspired by his own sense of displacement from being a Greek Australian; returning to the country of his parents, his character realises he is more Australian than Greek.
Greeks constitute the seventh largest ethnic group in Australia, their language being the fourth most commonly spoken after English, Chinese and Italian. Melbourne is often amusingly referred to as one of the largest Greek cities in the world. And one of the greatest contributions to Australia by Greeks was the milk bar.
I still remember clearly our family holidays from Canberra to the South Coast, the Vauxhall Victor lumbering to a halt at Braidwood or Mittagong where we would stop at Greek milkbars for milkshakes out of stainless steel cups. Called something like The Paragon, they would have booths for sitting in and serve mixed grills and fish and chips.
The country’s very first such enterprise happened in 1932 in Sydney’s Martin Place, opened by a Greek immigrant who had renamed himself Mick Adams: he called it the Black and White Milk Bar. Queensland’s first outlet opened several years later beside the Regent Theatre; soon they were springing up everywhere, offering inexpensive eat-in meals and often 24-hour service. By the 1930s they were selling groceries and were hubs of community spirit – a decade later the introduction of supermarkets signalled the beginning of their end.
Peter Panousis is the Area Manager for upmarket wine company Mezzanine Wines – and is also the great-nephew of one of the first Greek cafe owners in Surfers Paradise, called The Plaza Cafe. His parents moved up from Mudgee in the early ‘60’s and ‘I was brought up in that environment’, he tells me over coffee (in a modern-day cafe). It was, he tells me, a ‘standard Greek caff of the ‘50’s, the type you find in those country towns’, and as a child he would hang around there to help out, ‘filling salt and pepper shakers, folding napkins…’ It appears that the experience proved a formative influence contributing toward Peter’s future path: despite a desire to ‘get into law’, he became inspired by a talk on hospitality on Career Guidance Day by fourth year students from Gatton College who visited his school. So off to Gatton College he went to do a four-year degree in hospitality, which included the business side as well – ‘accounting, economics, business management, communications, food science, food technology.’ He knew that he was good with people so ended up, eventually, outside of rather than inside commercial kitchens, moving from Duty Manager to teacher of restaurant management, partnering in restaurants and lecturing in food and beverage, somehow finding time in all that to marry and travel overseas. And finally winding up still in hospitality but in a role he loves, which involves being on the road between Beenleigh and Lismore five days a week representing wine companies, meeting people, conducting tastings, speaking at events. He especially loves his forays down to the NSW Northern Rivers because ‘there are some really good operators down here, conscious and accepting of new varieties and new trends (in wine)… they’re really into food and wine and I want to help them out with whatever I can offer.’
Having myself experienced Peter in action (to whom I will be forever grateful for explaining so succinctly to me the difference between pinot gris and pinot grigio) I can attest to his passion, professionalism and communicability. Absorbed unconsciously, subliminally, without a doubt, as a child solemnly helping out at his great-uncle’s cafe: the art of hospitality, which is, after all, contributing toward the pleasure of others.
Anyone interested in wine-tastings or wine dinners can contact Peter Panousis on 0421 050 228.