The Greek family story behind one of the oldest fruit shops in Melbourne

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In the Melbourne suburb of Ripponlea, there is one strip where shops look exactly the same as when buildings were first built back in 1915. The architecture, the red bricks, the shop labels – all look like they have escaped the test of time.

Victoria Fruit Palace is one of these shops. The fruit and grocery shop has supplied many generations of customers at Ripponlea with quality products and is currently owned and managed by Greek brothers Bill and Kon Maglis.

For over 100 years, it had passed from the hands of one owner to another before ending up with their parents Harry and Stella in 1976.  

Stella showing pictures of the past. All photos copyright: The Greek Herald / Giorgos Psomiadis.

Harry came to Australia on December 27, 1964. Stella came two years later.

They were born in two villages of the Peloponnese, Greece, with a 9-kilometer distance between them. Although they were living close by, they only met in Melbourne, Victoria.

“A cousin of mine who came to Australia a year before me urged me to apply to the state for immigration,” Stella tells The Greek Herald. She was paying a visit to her uncle in Melbourne and there she met her husband.

Stella, Kon and Bill.

Harry, who was working in the construction business in Athens, recalls that it was hard to get paid for his job in Greece. He said he had to fight sometimes for the money he deserved. He won’t forget his first payday in Australia when someone left an envelope at his place of work exactly when it was supposed to come.

“This is the promised land,” he says.

The family in front of the great picture wall.

A place to call home

After doing various jobs, the couple co-owned a store near the highway before buying the fruit shop in Ripponlea. It was first and foremost their home.

On the ground floor, customers were coming in and out and the family were constantly selling fruits. On the upper floor, Bill, Kon and Giannis – Harry and Stella’s three children – were playing, eating and sleeping. Ripponlea became their neighbourhood. One day, 108 people were gathered in the fruit shop to celebrate Harry’s name day.

Harry is still helping today, 46 years later.

“We were working day and night,” he says. “I have spent 46 years in this place and I am still here.”

He remembers how hard it was trying to learn how to write the products in English.

“I had to learn how to write apple as apple, potato as potato,” he says.

Stella joins in and stands up to show the family’s life events collected in pictures across the wall.

“Look! All our life is here,” she says.

A reunion of the past owners.

The next generation

Their son, Bill, was the first to work in the shop and when he was younger, older people used to love him.

“Is this Billy’s shop?” they asked when entering.

Bill and his brother Kon have sweet memories from their neighbourhood. The fisherman, the shoemaker, their friends with whom they were playing in the street.

“It was similar to the way Greek kids were playing in their village,” they say, but add that it was hard to find time for holidays.

Kon and Bill in the past.
Harry outside the fruit shop.

In 1999, Bill and Kon started running the place together and since then, they keep developing every aspect of it.

“You just keep doing what you are doing. You improvise all the time. You have to evolve and constantly think of ways to improve the business,” they say.

First the shop was only selling fruits, then groceries were added and the brothers started bringing new things to the shelves.

“We were asking customers what they were looking for. If they wanted something they couldn’t find, we would bring it,” Kon says.

Products in Victoria Fruit Palace.

As the space expanded, more and more products were available in the shop. Today, one can find everything. Artisan bread, dairy products, herbs and spices and a huge range of international specialty goods including gourmet condiments. There’s also a deli range of antipasto and cheeses, meats and small goods from local suppliers along with frozen products. Even bunches of fresh seasonal flowers.

“Many of the things we bring, we make sure to taste them first. If we don’t like them, we don’t bring them in our place,” Kon says.

The relationship with the costumers is still strong.

Victoria Fruit Palace.

“You are always as good as your product. If you give them a good product then people come back to you and you will become friends. You will get to know each other,” Bill adds.

Victoria Fruit Palace is today one of the top five quality fruit markets in Melbourne. More than 100 years after it first opened its doors, and 46 years after the family started running it, its story is still being written.

All photos copyright: The Greek Herald / Giorgos Psomiadis

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