The oldest Greek cafe in Australia is now up for sale, in what will be just the second time it has changed hands in 100 years! But it may mark the end of an entire era of Greek cafes in Australia.
The Niagara Cafe is located in the small town of Gundagai, 390 kilometers (240 miles) southwest of Sydney.
The Cafe was established in 1902 by Stratee Notaras, who was from Kytheri, Greece. The coffee shop was then purchased by the Castrission family in 1919, at a time when, amazingly, there were separate dining rooms for men and women.
The cozy restaurant was altered and re-branded as “The Niagara Cafe” in 1928. The original ceiling, which was dome-shaped and decorated with the images of several constellations, was tragically destroyed by a fire in 1975.
The Castrission family ran the Niagara until 1983, and since then, and until the present day, it has been operated by the Loukissas family.
The classic century-old Greek cafe, which has been frequented by politicians and film stars during its long history, is the very last of the country’s traditional Greek coffee shops.
Some of its most important visitors were Australia’s wartime Prime Minister John Curtin and his War Cabinet, who ate hearty midnight meals of steak and eggs there during a visit in 1942.
Tina Loukissas, whose family bought the cafe in 1983, admitted to The Canberra Times that “it’s going to be a huge sentimental move to see it go.”
Loukissas hopes that the next person who will buy the restaurant will preserve its lovely historical features but also enhance its outward appearance as well.
“It has all the silver teapots and the original plates with ‘Niagara’ stamped on them, and it is the oldest, longest continuously Greek-run cafe in Australia,” she stated.
Loukissas is planning to sell the beloved restaurant due mostly to her mother’s poor health. Her mother would like to finally retire after many years of hard work, and her brother Tony has also fallen ill. The father of the family, Nick Loukissas, passed away nine years ago.
The future of the only other historic Greek coffee shop in Australia, Paragon Cafe, built-in the Blue Mountains in 1916, is still in limbo after closing down in 2018. There are fears that the sale of the Niagara Cafe could mark the end of an era in Greek eateries in Australia.
Leonard Janiszewski, a historian at Macquarie University, together with Effy Alexakis, have documented the evolution of Greek coffee shops in Australia. Janiszewski believes that it would be a tragedy if the cafe closes down.
“This cafe is an incredibly important place for all Australians,” he stated. “It’s part of our heritage. One of the Castrission family who ran it from 1919 said it was like ‘an oasis.’ It will be very, very sad when they sell, but you can’t live on nostalgia,” Janiszewski added.
The Niagara still possesses many of the furnishings, and much of the beauty, of that time, with its American-style wooden tables and bench seating. It once served steaks, hamburgers, and “floats,” soft drinks topped with scoops of ice cream.
Real estate agent Ross Tout, the branch manager of Elders Real Estate Gundagai, said it was difficult to put a price on the cafe, although the nearby National Bank building, with a four-bedroom apartment above, sold for $600,000 just three years ago.
“It’s hard to say what it would be worth, as it’s so historically important and has been a part of the Gundagai Main Street for such a long time,” he said.
“It would have to be half a million dollars, if not more. But it’s hard to put a price on the goodwill a business has, and that has been there in a good spot for many years,” Tout added.
The coffee shop is usually open from 9 AM until 7 PM, seven days a week. Although business has remained steady, its hours of operation are growing shorter.
“I doubt it will be bought by a Greek family, but times move on,” Loukissas said, who then stated that she just wanted the cafe to end up in good hands.
“The young generation aren’t so interested in old cafes anymore, but it does have so much potential for someone to do something really good here. They could keep the art decoration elements, but modernize it, and really do well,” she said hopefully.