They stood like bookends on Brisbane’s busiest thoroughfare—‘To Kato Magaze’, the bottom shop at 394 Queen Street, near Customs House, and ‘To Pano Magaze’, the top shop at 121 Queen Street, between George and Albert. Charles Patty (Karapatis) was born in 1888 in the Kytherian village of Mitata. He was little more than twenty years old, and just five foot four, when he set his battered suitcase down in the main street of Brisbane in 1909. Looking along that dusty thoroughfare for the first time, did Charles dream already of owning two thriving businesses in the heart of Queensland’s capital?
The eldest of three sons, Charles was selling figs and grapes from a cart in Piraeus at age 11, and by 1905 he was shucking oysters in a saloon at 345 Pitt Street, Sydney. He came to Brisbane, and in 1909 he bought the shop at 394 Queen Street, opposite the memorial fountain at the intersection of Eagle, Wharf and Queen Streets. So determined was Charles to make a success of his new life that he worked 16-18 hour days to establish his business, and after closing up for the night, set about the business of learning English. He studied by candlelight and paid a penny a lesson for tuition.
Charles soon brought his brothers, Peter and Paul, to Australia. The extent of their trade was such that the firm, known as Patty Bros, had its own large refrigerated area at the Stanley Street fish markets. By 1920, they were ships’ providores, stocking vessels that berthed near Customs House. Stationery in the family collection includes the words ‘under the patronage of his Excellency Sir Wm Macgregor and the Governor-General of Australia,’ indicating that Patty Bros provided catering for Government House—Macgregor was Governor of Queensland from December 1909 to July 1914. Charles was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1925, and Minister Frank T. Brennan, noting that Charles had the support of the Premier, wrote, ‘Your conduct as a citizen having warranted your elevation, I am sure you will continue to command the respect of the people of Queensland.’
In 1916, Patty Bros bought the freehold of one of the oldest Greek saloons in the city. Mr Andrulakis, trading as Comino’s Oyster Saloon and Dining Rooms, had been ‘sold up’ in 1900. Gianis Mavrokefalo took over. Known in Australia as John (Gero) Black, he advertised the shop at 121 as the Sydney Oyster Saloon, and presented himself as ‘John Black, late of King Street Sydney.’ He sold the shop to Charles Patty in 1916, when he returned to Ithaca. The building was damaged by fire in 1927, at which time George Samios ran the premises as a fruit shop and soda fountain. Later that year, the Council issued a demolition order.
In May 1930, Patty Bros opened the Café Pacifique at 121 Queen Street. The entrance of this new, three-storey premises featured octagonal black and white tiles, which were scrubbed daily. Marble counters flanked the foyer, and water trickled down the front window where fish was displayed. Potted plants and waiters in white coats embodied the café’s urbane new title. Dining rooms on the ground level and the top floor had white walls with timber panelling, white napery, gleaming silverware and ‘washed-air’ ventilation. Framed tapestries adorned the upper dining area, which included a Ladies Room—only patrons accompanied by ladies could dine here. The upper dining area was closed briefly at 3pm so waitresses could change tablecloths and polish silverware, and then it was all hands on deck for the evening trade. The Pacifique Café opened late into the night.
Ruling over the basement kitchen, a new Crown stove dispensed what advertising described as an ‘extensive’ menu, and above it a large vent extracted air from what was clearly an ‘up-to-date’ kitchen. A photograph of the stove shows plates warming in drawers at the front, and no fewer than six kitchen hands standing between Paul Patty on the left and Mr Hoffman, the German cook, on the right. Dumb waiters conveyed meals to serveries in the dining rooms.
Patty Bros suffered grievances that commonly beleaguered café proprietors. Theft was a never-ending battle. In 1933, a drunken shearer stuffed a large red crab under his arm at number 394 and took off up Queen Street with Peter Patty in pursuit. Later that year, thieves broke in and stole the cash register. A labourer snatched a pound of tea from behind the counter in 1936—the Depression years were hard, and while some locals viewed Greek proprietors as fair game, the Patty brothers chose to ignore episodes like this one.
Theft of cutlery by Australian soldiers during the war was rife. Servicemen may have viewed café silverware as useful tools or lucky charms. It certainly served as reminders of home. Not long before embarking for New Guinea, Len Thompson stole a spoon from 121 Queen Street. Many years later, he visited Charles’s son Peter in his Brisbane pharmacy: ‘I’ve got a confession to make,’ Len said. He revealed that he had taken a spoon. ‘I didn’t know if I would ever come back.’ Len carried the spoon throughout the war, remembering his mother taking him to Patty’s as a treat when he was a boy, and regarding the spoon as protection against gunshots and malaria. Len reached into his pocket then, and handed Peter a tarnished and battered object—the spoon, which was engraved Patty Brothers.
There were other problems too. Greek proprietors lived, to varying degrees, with the racial intolerance of the time: Patty Bros traded in close proximity to the A.S.D. Café and the Olympic Café in 1920, and newspaper columnists referred to them as ‘the dago colony’ near Customs House. Operating as they did at the heart of city life, proprietors were sometimes embroiled in newsworthy incidents: in 1933, a stranger harassed a man who was leaning against their shop, and when the man punched him, the stranger shot him in the testicles with a .22 calibre revolver. In the early 1950s, Charles and Paul engaged in a protracted High Court battle to evict Chinese lessees who had operated 121 as the Hong Kong Café since 1943. All this, in addition to procuring staff and produce during the war years, finding tenants, paying rates, and so on.
Eventually, Paul and Charles managed the ‘top’ shop, while Peter managed the ‘bottom’ one. The situation of the latter, which was part of the Belfast Hotel building, was very agreeable to a socialiser like Peter. Police used a side entrance to crowd into the back of his shop, where they enjoyed freshly shucked oysters and glasses of beer, which Peter fetched by the armful from the pub next door. Superiors looking for particular officers always knew where to find them, and when supplies were low at the Belfast, the joke was that there were more beer glasses at Patty’s than at the Belfast Hotel. Nobody paid for the beer. Or the oysters.
The Patty children were expected to pull their weight. At the Café Pacifique, Charles’s son Peter scraped chewing gum from beneath the chairs because hardened chewy snagged the stockings women prized so highly. This was wartime, and there were shortages, so he also filtered the vinegar through cotton wool to remove sediment, sieved the sugar in the silver pots, and cleaned the salt and pepper shakers. If the salt had been wet, he rolled it with a bottle after it dried, sifted it, and poured it back into the shakers. Paul’s son Victor remembers being stationed on a box behind the till at 394, charged with watching that no one tried to leave without paying. Peter’s tasks included watering the plants and keeping the smell of fish at bay by heating sugar and cloves on a gas ring. He was also charged with feeding the livestock, which was kept on the roof.
The space on top of 121 Queen Street was vital to the operation of the café, as produce could be winched up in a basket, which swivelled at the top to load and unload goods. Live poultry was kept on the roof. In 1929, a crate of chickens burst open as it was being unloaded, and gesticulating chicken-chasers, screeching fowls and whirling feathers filled Queen Street. During the war, American servicemen often requested duck, but these were not readily available in the lofty hen house. The Pattys had connections at the Botanical Gardens, however, and soon discovered that swan made quite presentable ‘duck’ when necessary. Also on the roof were turtles for the café’s popular turtle soup, and young Peter’s responsibilities included feeding them lettuces. He used to ride the biggest ones. From the roof, Peter could hear the chiming of the City Hall clock; 12pm was his cue to head home for avgolemono, a popular Greek soup made from chicken and egg and lemon. Fish were also cleaned on the roof and stored in an enormous fridge that was situated there.
During an interview, Victor and Peter study a faded photograph of their fathers as children. ‘That’s how poor they were,’ says Victor, remarking upon the lack of shoes. Poverty was the primary reason twelve-year-old Greek boys left their mothers for a better life on the other side of the world. The ‘bottom’ café ceased trading when the lease expired around 1953, and the ‘top’ café finally closed its doors in the mid-1950s, but the Patty family continued to manage prime real estate at both ends of Queen Street well into the new millennium. Could the young man who stood in that dusty thoroughfare in 1909 have imagined that?
Sunday Truth 22.8.1920 (5)
Courier 1.9.1927 (11)
Telegraph 8.8.1929 (6)
Truth 6.10.1929 (1)
Courier 6.5.1930 (11)
Daily Standard 7.2.1933 (1)
Telegraph 13.6.1950 (2)