Helen Faros and the Olympia Cafe still at the heart of Bigga’s community after 95 years

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Walking into Olympia Cafe in the rural New South Wales town of Bigga is like going back in time to the good old days of Greek milkshake bars and fish and chip shops. There are still the pristine floorboards, marble-top tables, a soda fountain and even an old-fashioned milkshake maker.

Standing proudly amongst all these things is 84-year-old, Helen Faros, and she tells The Greek Herald exclusively that the cafe celebrates 95 years this year and she has no plans of slowing down any time soon.

“We’re still here since 1926. For the Faros family, in five years’ time it’ll be 100 years. I just got to live that long,” Helen says with a small laugh.

Growing up Greek in Bigga:

Helen’s uncle, George Faros, opened Olympia Cafe in 1926 and originally called it after his wife Gregoria.

George and Gregoria Faros inside the cafe, 1930s. Photo by In Their Own Image- Greek-Australians National Project Archives.

When the cafe was first established, Bigga was a growing township servicing a large sheep-farming region in the NSW Southern Tablelands. Helen says the Faros family were the only Greek people around.

“They accepted us, no trouble. There was always someone coming in to have a little chat,” Helen says.

“We used to do lamb on the spit, Greek style, down on the riverbank on a Sunday. What else could you ask for?”

At the time, Helen along with her parents, Harry and Irene Faros, sister Poppy and brother Peter, were all living together with George and Gregoria “happily” and helping with the cafe. But eventually, Helen moved to Sydney for a little bit.

Helen and Peter Faros in the Olympia Cafe in 2009. Peter passed away in 2011. Photo by Effy Alexakis / Republished with permission.

“Being the eldest of a Greek family, I went to school in Bigga, went to high school in Crookwell, then moved down to my yiayia in Francis Street, Sydney… and lived there for four years and went to East Sydney Technical College and did a dressmaking course,” Helen explains.

“Then my family wasn’t well and… I came home to look after them and I’m still here.”

The cafe at the heart of Bigga:

Olympia Cafe in 2009. Photo by Effy Alexakis / Republished with permission.

George and Gregoria passed away, leaving the cafe in the hands of Helen and her brother, Peter. In 2011, Peter also passed away, having suffered a heart attack.

But today, the doors of the cafe remain open for business as Helen stoically persists with the family’s enterprise. There have been some upgrades in refrigeration but otherwise, things have remained the same and customers are as loyal as ever.

“I have done four generations of the Picker family. The original old Sam Picker, and then Trevor Picker his son, and now Trevor’s sons, he had four sons, they’re all married now and their children,” Helen says happily.

Helen and Peter outside the cafe in 2009. Photo by Effy Alexakis / Republished with permission.

“We sort of gave little lollies you know, ‘if you’re good kids, here’s a lolly,’ and this is still going on.”

With such a heart-warming past tied to the cafe, we just had to ask Helen what she has planned for its future. While she hinted that eventually the cafe might need “to be sold or closed down,” she says she is still “quite healthy” and will continue to run it for now.

“Bigga is an ageing town, we’ve been here a long time, but we’ve got a great generation of young kids coming up which will keep Bigga alive again, so that’ll be great,” Helen says.

Words of comfort for a Greek community which wishes to see the cafe hit its well-deserved 100th anniversary.

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