By Vasilis Vasilas
Sydney’s longest running delicatessen is none other than Olympic Continental Deli at Bankstown and the Karpouzis family has been running from 1956- for an amazing sixty- four years!
Historically, the delicatessens were the trojan horse of the Australian cuisine; they initially imported goods across Europe to cater for the European migrants’ tastes. Could anyone imagine an Anglo- Australian eating a mortadella or Hungarian salami sandwich in the 1960s and 1970s?
For our Greek delicatessens, these were truly Greek shops; they imported and served so many Greek products- from Kalamata Olives or Misko Macaronia!!! They, too, catered for their Greek customers…
But the growing strength of multiculturalism and the subsequent diversification of the Australian cuisine greatly changed Australian tastes and these ‘exotic’ products eventually entered and were accepted in Australian society.
With their delicatessen, the Karpouzis family has experienced so many changes over the decades spanning from the local demographics, Bankstown’s town planning and structure, customers’ shopping attitudes and behaviour and people’s tastes.
Panagiotis Karpouzis migrated to Australia in 1948 from the village of Paleokipos, Lesvos. Striking a friendship with Manolis Lagoutaris, they became business partners in a milk bar at Guilford. An opportunity arose to lease premises on Chapel Street, Bankstown, and Manolis and Panagiotis opened Olympic Delicatessen there in 1956.
Asked about the naming of their delicatessen, Peter explains Australia was buzzing with excitement because of the Melbourne Olympics; with so much promotion for the Games. As they needed to renovate one section of the shop and the bricks they used had the Olympic rings embossed on them. So, they named the new shop, Olympic! Incidentally, the Karpouzis still has one of those embossed bricks as a memento!!!
Manolis and Panagiotis’ customers were not only Greeks; so many central and eastern Europeans had settled in the Bankstown area and they yearned so many products and delicacies from their respective homelands. Catering for their customer needs, they learnt how to make smallgoods , smoke their meats and make their own continental sausages.
With the developments to the market coming, the business partners quickly adapted to them. As they were situated close to a cinema, they introduced a milk bar counter to cater for this demand. When orders for meat continued to increase, they established a butcher at the rear of the delicatessen.
In 1969, Panagiotis visited Lesvos where he married Maria (nee Hatzikomninou) and they had three daughters, Eleni, Ioanna and Efstratia. In 1980, Manolis unexpectedly passed away and Panagiotis has been running the business ever since.
Over the decades, Bankstown has changed dramatically; Chapel Street became a plaza; the generation of central and eastern Europeans passed away; and Bankstown shopping centre was built. And people would rather buy a roll from Subway than make their own roll! Yet, Olympic Deli is still there…
These days, Panagioti only comes into the delicatessen in the mornings and afternoons to oversee things but it is his daughter, Joanna, who has been running the business for many years now.
Asked about the longevity of Olympic Continental Deli, Panagiotis highlights the special relationship he gained with his customers, ‘After all this time, you build a special bond with customers; you get to know about their lives (and they get to know about you life too), all their mannerisms, the way they want meat cut and what their tastes are like. After all these years, and decades, you become attached to place and people. My family live in Bankstown and we have our business here too; Bankstown is my home. Our delicatessen is part of the community; and our customers are part of the same community. We are all part of Bankstown and this place brings us together.’
In hindsight, we can now appreciate the significance of delicatessens in bringing so many delicious products into mainstream Australian society. And we should pay tribute to delicatessens such as Olympic for playing such an important role in this process…
Olympic Deli’s story and photographs were featured in Vasilis Vasilas’ book, ‘Beyond the Shop Windows and Counters’ They were on the front cover.