By Vasili Vasilas
As discussed on previous feature articles, the Greek culture has such a wealth of traditions and (very) specific ways of doing things. Realistically, only a Greek business would have the delicate intricacies and sensitive know-how needed to cater for Greek customer needs. In doing so, they are also providing the Greek community with an invaluable service…
They say people choose their careers and jobs; in some cases, though, jobs and careers chose people. And this is because these people and have the necessary knowledge and skills but, more importantly, they need certain characteristics and a distinct personality that is required to run such a business.
When interviewing Andrew and Leo Stefadouros of Olympia Marble at Marrrickville, you realise just how important their product and service is to the Greek community- at a time when Greeks truly need them most, with their loved ones sadly passing away and their funeral monument/tombstone needs to be organised and finalised.
Leo was a very young child when his parents, Petros and Evdokia, and sister, Angela, all migrated to Australia in 1963. Andrew was born in Australia. Being a boat builder and carpenter, Petros, followed his trade here, while Evdokia balanced after children and working as a cleaner. The Stefadouros children grew up in a very Greek household, being parishioners at Agios Spyridonas Greek Orthodox Church and going to functions organised by the Kalymnian Association of NSW.
Leo and Andrew entered the workforce as teenagers, with Leo following his father’s footsteps and becoming a carpenter, while Andrew followed a career in stonemasonry.
Although Leo set up a carpentry business, Polytek, in Hillsdale, Andrew’s growing reputation as a stonemason brought them together as a business opportunity arose to go into partnership with Tony to establish Olympia Marble. As they recall, ‘At the time, the idea of making monuments and tombstones seemed crazy! There is a saying that you do not go out for opportunities but opportunities come looking for you. This line of work came and found us.’ When the Tony returned to Greece in 1991, Andrew and Leo just continued the business.
Olympia Marble has enjoyed a consistent growth as their customers appreciate their high quality work and caring service. Andrew and Leo explain how business requires a deep understanding of Greek traditions and beliefs, ‘Most of our customers are Greek, and because we are very spiritual people ourselves, we understand the Greek Orthodox traditions, and all the sensitivities of the Greek character.’ After all, Olympia Marble is dealing with customer’s loss and grief, Leo, Andrew and their staff are an important part of their customers’ process of mourning and healing.
Andrew and Leo continue how organising the monument is such a delicate process, “We are dealing with people’s grief. People come to us after the loss of a loved one. We hear their respective stories; death does not discriminate! People can be very elderly but also very young; they die of natural causes but they can also die in accidents.
“There is a lot of sadness in the work we do. When people come to us, the weight of their loss is so heavy on them, so we have to guide them through the process of creating the monument. For them, expressing their loss to us is part of their healing process.
“Listening every day to people’s loss does impact on us; it can really sadden us. What we have realised over the years is that we are there to help people – this is the support we give them. With this frame of mind, we are able to deal with the sadness around us. There are so many times when our customers break down in tears; there are many times when we cry with them too.
“In our line of work, we also have to deal with our own people, our relatives, and this is also very difficult. “In the process of mourning loss, the completion and installation of the monument is the last point. Once monuments are set at the cemeteries, our customers experience some kind of closure, some kind of peace.”
Olympia Marble is truly a family business as Andrew and Leo’s respective sons, Petros and Petros, are an integral part of the business, ensuring it will pass onto the next generation… But the brothers also point out how proud their late father was of their achievements, as he ‘continuously’ wore his Olympia Marble polo shirt when he came helped out at Olympia Marble!
Operating for decades in Marrickville, Olympia Marble is strongly connected with the suburb and surrounding area, as people associate the business with Marrickville itself. As Andrew and Leo explain, ‘This is like a second home. When our customers ring and ask us where we are located, we ask them if they know where Danias Timber is, which they always do, so we direct them to pass Danias Timber, go up Victoria Road and turn right at the first street.’ How Marrickville can you get?
Olympia Marble’s story is part of Vasili’s book, “Little Athens (Volume One): Marrickville (Part One)