He stows the treasured documents in the top drawer—a letter from Nelson Mandela (1994), a birthday card from Her Majesty the Queen (2017)—and returns the key to his pocket. Around the walls, awards and commendations rub shoulders with photographs of royalty, Gough Whitlam, and George in his sepia days. Affixed to the wall below “Her Majesty the Queen” is a certificate acknowledging 50 years of service as Justice of the Peace, and tucked behind this, covered neatly in plastic, official notification of George’s appointment to this role in July 1950.
George Glytsos is organised and precise, and when he tells you a story each element is clarified and corrected before he moves on. Born in Mitata in 1917, he migrated to Australia in 1934, and was naturalised in 1942, aged 26. He trained as a pastry cook in the Belle Vue Café, still in operation in Palmerin Street Warwick, where he worked from 1934 to 1939. George then went to Melbourne to replace a mate who was returning to Greece, arriving 2 September 1939, the day before war was declared. David Webster, who owned numerous cafés throughout Brisbane, collared George on his return to Brisbane in August 1940. He wanted to sell the shop opposite Anzac Square. The following month George bought the Queen of Hearts Café at 205 Adelaide Street. Describing the business as a cake shop, he is proud that his cakes—rainbow, butterfly and sand cakes, sponges, jam rolls—were “The Best Cakes in Queensland” and that he numbered among his customers, and his friends, Sir Walter Campbell, Sir Dormer Andrews and other judges from the nearby Supreme Court. George operated the shop into the late 1950s but when he developed a reaction to flour, and was forced out of the cake business, he turned the Queen of Hearts into a coffee lounge and converted the basement into Princes, which he describes as a restaurant.
As restaurant proprietor and pastry cook, George was also an activist. Rubbish piled up in the streets during a garbage workers’ strike in January 1949, and George made the front page of the Courier-Mail three days running when he threatened to sue the Council if he was forced to close. In 1950, at the Annual General Meeting of the Queensland Café and Caterers’ Association, at least four of the nine incoming officer-bearers were Greek, and one of these was George Glytsos. President of the organisation from 1959-1964, George campaigned for liquor licences. When fifteen liquor licences were granted in 1962, five Brisbane businesses were awarded licences and Greek migrant Michael Karlos’s Camelia restaurant was one of these. George identified anomalies in the café section of the Act, however, and threatened to call for a Royal Commission into the allocation process. He was still writing to the paper to set people straight on the licensing issue in 1965, after he had retired from office.
Liquor licensing stalled during the 1950s because of the difficult distinction between restaurants and cafés. Such distinctions had long been an issue in relation to wages: Christy Freeleagus went to court in 1916 to maintain that his business was an oyster saloon, rather than a café. When I ask George how cake shops and restaurants differed from cafés, he explains that Prince’s had cloth napkins and waitresses stood to attention while orders were taken rather than ‘chatting’ with customers. Waitresses also adhered to a strict dress code, under which lipstick was banned. George served grills, fish, steaks and casseroles, which were very popular, and employed Italian and German chefs. Prince’s offered a selection of more exclusive meals as well as a ‘deli’ or regular menu, and with built-in air-conditioning and a change room for staff, it was the last word in food-catering.
George and “Her Majesty the Queen” have grown old together. Nine years his junior, she is his paragon of womanhood, and as his long and influential life contracts into a small nursing-home room she is still queen of his heart. George is almost dapper in braces and high-waisted trousers—possibly the ones in the sepia photograph on the wall—and the tweed cap that hangs above an A4 printout stating that The Toilet is Behind this Door, is clearly a favourite. He shows me a notebook wherein he records the institution’s culinary misdemeanours. ‘They don’t know the word roast,’ he says. ‘Boiled lamb, boiled potatoes, boiled pumpkin, boiled carrot—it’s prison food.’ And when it comes to culinary matters George Glytsos should know.