Vasili’s Taxidi: Sixty Years and Still Growing with Christophers Cake Shop

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By Vasilis Vasilas 

How do you take a business’ high quality products and services to the next level of broadening its customer base? Its longevity as a successful business is proven, yet how does its owner(s) gauge the timing of taking that daring next step of expansion; although the growing demand for a business’ products may be natural, there is still that element of uncertainty underlying the decision to physically expand the business itself. 

For thirty five years, Surry Hills’ Athens/Athenaikon Cake Shop was Sydney’s longest running Greek cake shop; today, it is Christophers Cake Shop with ten franchises across Sydney. Not only is the Christophers Cake Shop story interesting from the perspective of its growth and success, it is also fascinating to note how a Greek business successfully made the crossover into the broader Australian community. 

The Christophers Cake Shop story dates back to 1955, when Chris Koumis opened the Athens Cake Shop on Bourke Street; Chris’ decision made sense as many post- World War II Greek migrants had settled in the inner city suburbs of Paddington and Redfern. Subsequent to this Greek settlement, the Athens Cake Shop was part of the establishment of the Greek business network in the area, as the Baveas Greek delicatessen was next door and Andrew Carr’s Meats around the corner. 

Chris Panayi and his partner Fanos Papcharalambous. Photo: Courtesy of Panayi family

Having married Andrea Vasiliou, Christopher Panayi bought the Athens Cake Shop- with his partner, Fano Papcharalambous- in 1976, and they continued to work this busy Greek cake shop until 1987, when Fano left the partnership and the business name morphed into Athenaikon Cake Shop.   

Throughout the 1990s, Christopher and Andrea’s three sons- Peter, Kyriako and Anthony- all finished college as pastry chefs and joined them at Atheniakon Cake Shop- making it a truly family business. 

For the Panayi family, the 1990s were a turning point, as Kyriakos Panayi recalls, “Surry Hills’ demographics had greatly changed by the 1990s- many Greeks had left the area and more professionals moved in- and our customer base was broadened. Alongside our Greek customers, we had Australian customers asking for the “baked custard”- which was the galaktobouriko- or “cheese pasty”- which was the tiropita. 

Chris Panayi and an employee. Photo: Courtesy of the Panayi family

“In the family, we had four pastry chefs and the potential was there for us to expand our business; when we established our second shop in Mascot- and moved our kitchen there- it was an ideal opportunity to rebrand our business and change our business model.

”’Athenaikon” was a very general name. We wanted a name that represented our family, and “Christophers” was a personal brand that embodied our family and its values.” 

Changes in the business model at the time saw Christophers Cake Shop decrease its sweets lines and introduce savoury lines. In doing so, the focus was on providing the highest-quality products the Panayi family could offer their customers. Overcoming the initial challenges, and competing against other patisserie franchises, the rest is history with Christophers continually growing and now operates a factory which caters for their ten stores across Sydney. 

Twenty years passing since the rebranding, how has Christophers Cake Shop’s menu changed in our market-driven world? Kyriako explains, “We are continually evolving and develop according to the changes in the market. On offer, we always had our Greek savouries but there were many other products such meat pies and sausage rolls that we introduced to expand our savoury lines.

Three Generations of the Panayi family in the original Surry Hills patisserie. Photo: Courtesy of Vasilis Vasilas

“The growing veganism in our community has also impacted the market and we have had to adapt this development too. People would be so surprised to know so many of the Greek products, such as baklava or paximadia, can easily transformed to vegan, and they are actually “nistisima”- perfect for our Easter.” 

Asked where the Greek identity fits into Christophers Cake Shop today, Kyraikos points out, “Our ethos is Greek. Our passion as pastry chefs is Greek; our strong bond of family is Greek and our sense independence is Greek.

“When I visit our stores and customers state that they are third-generation customers because their yiayia and pappou used to come into our Surry Hills store, this makes us very happy because it reinforces our belief our business is based on the strong connections to family. This history is where we came from and this embodies the identity of who we are.”

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