MEET ME AT THE PARAGON: Exhibition curators Dr Toni Risson and Chrissi Theodosiou at one of the exhibition replica booths from the typical Greek Cafes in the 1930s. (Photo: Josef Ruckli/ QSL)
MEET ME AT THE PARAGON: Exhibition curators Dr Toni Risson and Chrissi Theodosiou at one of the exhibition replica booths from the typical Greek Cafes in the 1930s. (Photo: Josef Ruckli/ QSL)

MEET ME AT BUSY BEE: Unknown story of Greek cafes

KINGAROY’S Busy Bee Cafe is one-of-a kind, but this was not always the case.

Author Toni Risson said there would have been around five Greek cafes in Kingaroy alone in the mid-1900s.

“There’s very few left now, so yours is kind of special,” she said.

This is why old photographs of the Busy Bee Cafe became hero images and inspired replica cafe booths in the Meet Me At the Paragon exhibition at the Brisbane State Library.

Dr Risson, the exhibition’s external curator alongside Chrissi Theodosiou, said there would only be a handful of remaining businesses like Busy Bee resembling the original cafes.

“From the thousands there must’ve been, it’s come down to a handful,” she said.

In Queensland, there is also Warwick’s Belle Vue Cafe, the Popular Cafe Ravenshoe, and Atherton’s Superstar Cafe, while NSW would only have six cafes left.

The interior of the Busy Bee Cafe in Kingaroy, Queensland on January 2, 1929. The owner, George Trifilis is behind the counter and wife Matina is most likely the woman with the pram. (Photo: neg. number: 105119/ Queensland State Library)
The interior of the Busy Bee Cafe in Kingaroy, Queensland on January 2, 1929. The owner, George Trifilis is behind the counter and wife Matina is most likely the woman with the pram. (Photo: neg. number: 105119/ Queensland State Library)

Some of the earliest photos found of the Kingaroy cafe were of Busy Bee owner George Trifilis in 1929.

“Busy Bee had a beautiful facade, which got ripped out and opened to the front,” Dr Risson said.

Mr Trifilis had married Matina Economos at her family’s cafe in Rockhampton, who is believed to be the woman with the pram at the back of the 1929 photo.

The cafes never sold Greek food, but were run by Greek migrants.

The cafes started up in the 1890s and were ‘really blokey places’ serving seafood and fresh oysters, sent up from Sydney.

They soon evolved into milk bars during the 1910s, inspired by on American food ideas and served ice-cold drinks before refrigeration was around.

“Before there was McDonalds, there was the Greek Cafes,” Dr Risson said.

“A classic Greek cafe had a milk bar, confectionary counter, tables and chairs.”

GREEK WEDDING: The wedding reception of Busy Bee owners George Trifilis and Matina Economos, which took place at the Economos' cafe in Rockhampton. (Photo: neg.no. 105120/ Queensland State Library)
GREEK WEDDING: The wedding reception of Busy Bee owners George Trifilis and Matina Economos, which took place at the Economos' cafe in Rockhampton. (Photo: neg.no. 105120/ Queensland State Library)

By the 1930s, the cafes started to take on the American diner look with cubicles fitted around the side wall with mirrors.

“Our cubicles were often made of timber, very much introducing American ideas, with our own Australian aesthetics,” she said.

Everything served in the cafes were made on the premesis from ice-cream and lollies to syrups made for sodas.

Most cafes made their own baked goods like pies and sausage rolls.

Today, Kingaroy’s Busy Bee Cafe still serves traditional meal options and takeaway foods like burgers, chips and their own potato scallops.

Dr Risson said in Kingaroy there was also a Greek cafe called the Kookaburra, and another, possibly called The Paragon Cafe, owned by the Farris family.

She has a battered tea-pot from a ‘Paragon Cafe’ in Kingaroy, but said there might have been more Greek cafes at one stage.

A street view of the Busy Bee Cafe in Kingaroy. (Photo: neg. no. 199840/Queensland State Library)
A street view of the Busy Bee Cafe in Kingaroy. (Photo: neg. no. 199840/Queensland State Library)

Owners worked long hours, often from 4am until late at night.

“Takeaway was the way they could stay afloat,” Dr Risson said.

“The owners worked hard so their children wouldn’t have to live that life, they went on to become lawyers and doctors.”

The cafes became a close-knit network which helped young migrants find employment, earn enough to buy their own shop, source produce and even arranged marriages.

Meet Me At The Paragon is a free exhibition which will be held on level four of the State Library of Queensland until Sunday, March 15, 2020.

The wedding of Busy Bee owners George Trifilis and Matina Economos. (Photo: neg. no. 105127/ Queensland State Library)
The wedding of Busy Bee owners George Trifilis and Matina Economos. (Photo: neg. no. 105127/ Queensland State Library)

Do you have any information about Greek Cafes in the South Burnett? Or another piece of South Burnett history you would like to share? Email through details to jessica.mcgrath@southburnetttimes.com.au

Read more stories looking back at history in the South Burnett here.

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