By Vasilis Vasilas
Marrickville Road’s shopping strip went beyond Marrickville; it crossed over into neighbouring Dulwich Hill where there was also a bustling Greek business community. And there were several iconic shops that that left such a huge an impact in the local community. One of those shops was the famous ‘Sentas Bros Fruit Shop’ which was run by Andonis and Yiannis Sentas for forty five years (1971- 2016)!!! What made this small business so famous was undoubtedly the larger-than-life character of Andonis Sentas…
Shops and businesses should never be considered as bricks and mortar; it is the people who run them behind the shop counters and windows that bring shops alive. Success lies with these people who toil through the long hours, who innovate and invigorate their products and who build everlasting relationships with their customers. But there is definitely an x factor of charisma and confidence that elevates some of these individuals to an (almost) iconic status!
It was Stavros Sentas who migrateded to Australia first (1959); his wife, Angela, and children, Athina, Yianni and Toula, and Tony came after 18 months.
The Sentas family settled in Newtown. After a short stint at night school, Tony worked in a milk bar on George Street, Sydney city… at 13 years old; by 15 years old, he was practically running the shop! From there, he worked in the fish and chips shop at Central Railway Station.
Tony’s introduction to the fruit and vegetable retail industry came when his uncle Tony (Sentas) bought a fruit shop on Anzac Parade, Kingsford; after five years, Uncle Tony bought the fruit shop in Padstow, and Tony continued to work with his uncle there too.
After settling and marrying Tessie (Anastasia nee: Rigos), Tony’s years of work experience inspired him to look for business opportunities and he found a fruit (and vegetable) shop in Dulwich Hill. Although there were already three successful fruit shops in Dulwich Hill, Tony’s bravado and determination held him in good stead to succeed.
After a few years, Tony and Tessie wanted to try another business; with Yiannis (Tony’s brother) and his wife Georgina, they all bought the Dulwich Hill milk bar- only a few doors down from the fruit shop. It was only a few years later that Tony’s itching to return to what he knew best overcame him; with his brother, Yianni, and Georgina, and his wife, Tessie, he bought the fruit shop back. Tony’s sons, Sozo, Stavros and Niko grew up in shop too! They stayed on until 2016!!!!
To describe Tony’s effervescence and charisma in words would be a sheer understatement; you will have had to experience his old- fashioned ‘spruiking’ of his fruit and vegetables at the front of Sentas Bros fruit shop every day. After the Sentas Bros truck parked in front of the shop, and the stalls were stocked, Tony would begin his call and the whole place came alive! People loved this; with the ‘call’ came all the banter too! Over the years and years, the Sentas brothers lifelong friendships; more importantly, the shop was like a social hub for so many people and they were bound to see a familiar face at the shop and stop for a chat. The shop served both purposes of serving the community and bringing people together.
To highlight Tony’s lively personality, he made the front page of the Daily Mirror newspaper (1989) when comedian Mark Mitchell’s persona, ‘Con the Fruiterer’ was proclaimed ‘King of Moomba”, as he was a real life depiction of a great fruiterer! When the Olympic Torch relay passed through Dulwich Hill for the Sydney Olympics, where was the changeover? The Sentas Fruit Shop- it was such a central point in Dulwich Hill!
Dulwich Hill misses the Sentas Bros Fruit Shop; old customers still ask for Tony and Yianni and this is quite natural as they, with their families, played such an important role in servicing the local community for over two generations…! Small businesses such as Sentas Bros Fruit Shop were more than shops; it was part of people’s everyday life.
Follow Vasili’s Taxidi through Marrickville next Friday online and in print…