One family's hard work over nearly 40 years created one of Melbourne's most appreciated delicatessens and cafe restaurants
If shop counter shelves could complain, the Albert Park Deli's would be groaning loudly. Supporting a dazzling variety of delicacies - from lasagne to lentil and pumpkin pies, lamb and feta sausages with bean curry, to beef stroganoff - there's always a veritable feast awaiting this deli's discerning customers. And it's not just savoury delights. Desserts? More than you can shake a stick at.
Think tiramisu, berry and poppyseed cheesecake, and rich dark chocolate mousse. It's as wide a selection of home-made culinary creations as you're likely to find under one roof anywhere in Victoria's capital.
The story of the Albert Park Deli's success and how it has claimed a special place in the hearts of its customers, is down to one family. Vasili and Vasilki Xynas opened a milk bar in Albert Park's main street back in 1973.
Vasili, originally from Thermo in the district of Aitoloakarnania, started his new life in Australia working in Queensland on the sugar cane, before heading to Melbourne. From the mid-1980s, Vasili and Vasilki's four children, Arthur, Peter, Stratis and Spiz (Spiridoula) nurtured their parents' humble store into a thriving food and beverage business. Assisted over nearly thirty years by Spiz's husband Andy Demetriou, and more recently, Peter and Stratis' wives (Vicky and Vicki), to say this is a family business is something of an understatement.
"When mum and dad first bought the shop it was a milk bar with a deli section, catering mostly for the local Greek and Italian community," says Spiz, as we sit under the wall-size black and white photo of her and her brothers as kids in the deli's simple but elegant dining room. "As the 80s rolled on, people's shopping habits changed and the shop had to change direction to survive," says Spiz, who is currently completing a PhD thesis in art history.
"We've all had other interests, but we entered the business when mum and dad were ready to retire back in the mid 80s. We worked seven days a week for four years to get it humming." Spiz, who studied economics and politics as an undergraduate and then a diploma in education, says that both her degrees had relevance to making the Deli what it is today.
"Those skills have come in really useful, in terms of training people whether in the kitchen or out the front, conveying what needs to be done and the processes that need to be established, to get people to the point where they really understand the culture and philosophy of the business." As well as helping the chefs daily, Spiz's role is to keep the Deli and its products very much in the eyes of existing and future customers.
From tips on cooking quinces, to recommendations for a particular Greek white wine pressed from grapes grown on the Arcadian plateau, the Deli's blog and the business's embrace of social media, has become a vital marketing tool.
"People email us from London to have products sent to friends here," says Spiz. "In the last five years, social networking has become very big. Sites like Urban Spoon have had a huge impact."
It's clear that commercial success is only part of the story for this favourite Melbourne fine food emporium. "Wealth is only one measure of success when you've been in a business for a long time," says Spiz. "For me, I get a thrill when somebody comes to see us when it's the last stop before they go on a trip, or we're the first place they come to when they come back; it rejuvenates you.
"A gentleman walked in a few months ago and he'd been in England for ten years: he said 'I want a slice of your flourless orange and almond cake'. Luckily it was on the menu that day!"
If you want to find out what's on Spiz's menu and sample a delicacy or two, as well as catch up with the master chefs that make up this family affair, follow @albertparkdeli on Twitter, or even better, call in. Aromas and tastes haven't been digitised - yet!
The Albert Park Deli, 129 Dundas Place, Albert Park, Vic 3206, Tel (03) 9699 9594
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