The closure of an iconic Wagga takeaway has travelled interstate, with many bemoaning the gradual end of an era.
Ilias Konstas recently closed the doors of Mark’s Fish Shop – one of the city’s last old-fashioned “Greek milk bars” – after years of working 100-hour weeks, with Kooringal’s Kung Fu Dumplings set to open in the Gurwood Street premises.
Former deputy mayor Michael Georgiou, whose family had the Rose Marie and later the Ritz milk bars, paid tribute to the work ethic of takeaway workhorses like the Konstas’s.
“We used to go down and see them, say hello, they’re very nice people,” Mr Konstas said. “Mark Criticos was the original owner but he sold it to some Italians who then sold it to Ilias. There’s a lot of long hours that go into them, when I was young I worked in the cafes too, but (Mr Konstas) had been there a long time.”
For people like Sunshine Coast resident Pat Henderson, a visit to Mark’s was a highlight of trips to Wagga.
“Our daughter went to uni in Wagga and went to Mark’s on her first day for a hamburger, but when she went to pay she didn’t have cash, only a card,” Ms Henderson said. “They just said to pay the next time she went past because she had an honest face – who would say that? That’s just the sort of people they are, the nicest people and every time we went it was like stepping back in time to an old milk bar.”
From the Bridge to the Silver Key, Wagga had a long history of Greek milk bars that brought not only a family focus but also community focus to the hospitality industry. Historian Leonard Janiszewski said the British culture of eating according to your social class was disrupted by the friendly, welcoming Greek culture that helped transform modern Australia.
“They worked so hard to make sure their kids could get ahead,” Mr Janiszewski said.
“The Greeks really engaged with the customers, made them feel welcome and part of the family and that’s part of why they succeeded. Some of these ‘institutions’ that they became lasted until, sadly, they began to retire.”
Even the expansion of Asian restaurants into formerly-Greek takeaways was nothing new either, Mr Janiszewski said.
“The original Paragon Milk Bar – about three or four doors down from where it is now – has become a Chinese restaurant,” he said.
“It’s migrants starting a small, family business and then growing it so the family can go on to make greater successes.”