By Vasilis Vasilas
The Greek contribution to Australia’s socio- economic post World War II development should not be underestimated; so many Greek migrants grabbed arising opportunities to start their own businesses and successfully served and catered their communities. Looking at the growth and impact of Sydney’s Greek businesses highlights how some of them transcended local markets to become important players at national and international markets. And one of these successful Greek businesses is undoubtedly Marrickville’s M & J Chickens, which was established by Minas Souris.
Whichever angle you examine the M & J Chicken’s story, it is simply a great story; whether it is a migrant story of working incredibly hard for the business to succeed, the actual success of M and J Chickens or even looking at Minas’ down-to-earth and humble attitude, it is all there for a great story!
What is fascinating about successful entrepreneurs is often their different background to the business of their eventual success which raises the important question of how they actually got into that business. And as a young man, Minas Souris followed the family trade of carpentry in boat-building in idyllic Agia Pelagia, Kythira. When the Halioris family, who were already in Australia, were holidaying in Kythira, Minas met Jenny (Halioris); after marrying in Kythira, Minas found himself migrating to Australia and his first job was at Easy Fix Windows, which was run by compatriots, Harry Zantiotis, with his uncle, Vaggeli. Although Minas was appreciative to have a job, he realised work opportunities were actually better on Kythira, and he and Jenny began preparations to return home.
However, fate stepped in. It was when Minas began working in the chicken shop at Seven Ways, in Rockdale, which was run by Terry Zistis- his father-in-law, Harry (Halioris) and Harry Asimakopoulos, (who would eventually buy this business) – that Minas experienced the opportunity for lots of work in this very busy shop and he decided to stay in Australia.
Being highly motivated, Minas and Jenny’s first opportunity was to buy John Mallos’ delicatessen at Wiley Park and renovate it into a chicken shop. To attract customers to Wiley Park’s ‘quiet’ shopping strip, Minas bought chicken in bulk, at a cheaper price, and sold it to customers at a cheaper price. After a few years, Minas took the next big step and began distributing chicken by setting up a workshop in the rear of the shop to prepare the chicken. Minas and Jenny subsequently became wholesalers.
In only four years, M and J Chickens outgrew its premises and moved to Sloane Street, Marrickville, where Peter Meletis had his food distribution business. M and J Chickens has never looked back since! It grew and grew… and grew and grew… into the enormous business it is today!
Asked about M & J Chickens success, Mina explains, “When starting off a business, the hardest part is gaining the trust of your customers. In competitive markets, why should customers use your product and service when they can go elsewhere? What has always been paramount for us is: high quality product,and excellent service – at the best price. Trust is very important, and comes over many years.”
Minas summarises the hard work and sacrifice in building a successful business, ‘It takes time for a business to grow. M & J Chickens are the largest distributor of chicken in Australia and even exports chicken to several countries; people see how big M & J Chickens is but we were not always like this. It took many years of hard work to develop and grow to this point. We put in very long hours into the business, finishing 11pm and getting up again at 5am was our normal routine during busy periods. Nothing happens easy in business.
Being taken on a tour through M & J Chickens is truly an eye-opener at the thorough quality control through the premises. To ensure boneless chicken has no bones, it is a long process- including the high- tech machinery and lots of staff- making very sure everything is perfect. And underlying such thoroughness is M & J Chickens’ objective to remain at the forefront of their industry, “Our work is our work. We work, we invest. We invest millions of dollars into our business, whether it meant buying property to expand our business, or buying the latest equipment. We put so much back into M & J Chickens.”
All Minas and Jenny’s children, Michalis, Maria and Theoharis (Haris), worked in the family business. In 2018, a private equity company bought 75% of M & J Chickens, and the Souris family remain actively involved in the business.
M and J Chickens’ story is featured in Vasili’s book, “Little Athens: Marrickville”.
Jenny Souris of ‘M & J Chickens’ tragically passes aged 63
Jenny Souris, the ‘J’ of M & J Chickens, tragically passed on May 12 after a long fought battle with breast cancer. News of her death came after NRL club Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs released a statement on the sadness of her passing.
M & J Chickens have been a long time sponsor of the NRL club, with Jenny Souris being one of their longest standing fans.
“She was a personable and grounded lady who loved to spend time with family and close friends and was always so happy to see the M&J logo proudly displayed on the Bulldogs jerseys,” Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs said in the statement.
“Jenny was unwell for some time and was surrounded by family when she passed on Tuesday.”
The Greek Herald would like to pass on their condolences to the Souris family.