The birth of the milk bar
The humble milk bar is widely recognised as an Australian suburban institution. But what isn’t known is that these convenience stores on local street corners are at the heart of the Greek diaspora experience in Australia
In 1932, two events happened in Sydney that would ultimately shape the Australian experience. The most well-known was the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The lesser known was Greek migrant Joachim Tavlaridis opening the first ever milk bar in Australia, thus creating a long-held tradition that milk bars are at the core of the Greek Australian migrant experience.
Macquarie University academics Leonard Janiszewski and Effy Alexakis have disputed the previously held belief that Sydney's Burt Brothers opened the first milk bar in 1934. The true history of the milk bar is "its Greek and American origins, international distribution and local architectural style", they argue. Their research has found that Greek migrant Tavlaridis was the first businessman to open the traditional milk bar after he set up the Black and White 4d. Milk Bar in Sydney's Martin Place in November 1932.
Tavlaridis - who later adopted the name Mick Adams - migrated from Greece at the age of 14. He started by working odd jobs in restaurants and butcher shops to save up enough money to build his own business. Food businesses, take-away shops, restaurants and delis were an easy and viable business option for many Greek migrants in Australia at that time. They represented so much to the community.
They allowed newly arrived migrants a way to assimilate in their adopted country, they created job opportunities and a safe haven for many Greek migrants. With food, Greek migrants were given a new way to communicate with their adopted nation, which would leave language at the door. Through these businesses, Greek migrants would learn new words, skills and experiences that would develop not only their social status, but also provide a community hub for all. Little did 14 year-old Tavlaridis realise when he arrived in Australia, but he would grow up to help build an Australian icon.
The milk bar story is not just a story of the Greek and American influence in Australian society, it is also a story of belonging. Often family-owned, these businesses provided employment opportunities for people in the local community. The impact of Adams' original Black and White 4d. Milk Bar was felt throughout Australia and overseas as the term was imported to the United Kingdom.
"Milk bars and other Greek cafes and restaurants were resting stops, places people met up for business and also where lovers met," Janiszewski says. Lilian Keldoulis (nee Adams), Mick Adams' youngest daughter, was only one year-old when her father opened the first Australian milk bar. Some of her fondest childhood memories are from the milk bar. She remembers coming home from school to sit at the bar with a milkshake, quite possibly making her the envy of her peers at the time.
"My favourite [flavour] was probably chocolate. I used to love sitting down and watching people going past and coming in," she says. What defined Adams' milk bar was not just that it sold only milkshakes, or even that it had a mechanical cow which drew crowds out front, but that it became a community centre of sorts. Keldoulis explains that the milk bar became a popular meeting place for Sydney's city dwellers as well as an integral part of the Greek and local communities. Every year, Adams would give a day's takings from the milk bar to the Dellwood Children's Home.
With a flourish Keldoulis describes her father as being "an Australian first and Greek second". "He was very grateful for the country, that he used to say, 'The world is my country and doing good is my religion'."
Thinking back, Keldoulis says her father's business even took customers away from the pub across the road. "It was the Depression years. Eventually the people from the hotel would rather come over and have a milkshake rather than a beer because it was more nutritious and only cost four pence," Keldoulis says. Mick Adams was not the first person to sell milkshakes in Australia; similar food catering establishments operated under the term 'American bars'.
However, apart from its name and, initially, its milkshake-only menu, Janiszewski explains that Adams' milk bar was different because it broke away from the sit-down meal affair of other Greek-run businesses of the time, such as oyster saloons and cafes. "Adams had the idea to take away table service. They wanted to make business as efficient as possible to get a lot of customers," Janiszewski says. Adams did exactly this. Wanting to serve Australia a slice of the American Pie, the Black and White 4d. Milk Bar's main feature was the bar counter with limited seats on one side and milkshake makers and soda pumps on the other. This interior fit out was inspired by his observations of early 1930s American soda 'parlors'.
It set his business apart from all the other similar 'parlors' of the day and gave birth to the milk bars we know and love today. What's more, for Adams, as well as many other Greek business owners, the milk bar was a stepping stone for future generations to fulfil their dreams. "He wanted to be a lawyer if he had more education," Keldoulis says. "My sister eventually studied criminal law after she got married and became a barrister."
For wider communities who love establishments like the Black and White 4d. Milk Bar, Adams and many otherw Greek entrepreneurs like him turned a basic American offering into a mainstay of Australian culture, with a Greek shake.
- Register Now
- 'Miraculous' icon returned to Red Hill
- The miracle of learning Greek
- When 'the Wild One' sang in Greek
- Measles outbreak in Brunswick
- They are the Eaters
- 1/5 of global fleet belongs to Greece
- CBA under fire for alleged $76m fraud
- Insomnia a cause of depression
- Lexilogia for everyone
- A world of Greek-made products
- Priest's photo stirs debate
- Most popular child's name in Europe and the USA is Greek
- 'Miraculous' icon returned to Red Hill
- Two teens dead after car hurtles off bridge
- How to ease your path to Greek citizenship
- The Kayla Itsines phenomenon
- An open letter to the minister for health in Greece
- One click away from speaking Greek
- Bombers Zaharakis avoids the needle and damage done
- IVF in Greece giving life to thousands of Aussie babies
Recognising the complexities of modern society, Alphington Grammar offers students extended opportunities across a range of disciplines to better equip them.
Sts Anargiri Greek Language Centre is one of only a handful of schools throughout Victoria offering Classical Greek as a VCE subject.
The second theft at the church in 18 months.
Just three points separate the top five A-League teams ahead of round 17.
The school is continually achieving and is an active part of the local community.
Sydney's Greek Festival is set to return to Darling Harbour next month.
Children's gastro and hospitalisation in Greece.
“I believe 2016 will be the year that Greece will surprise the world economic community,” Greek PM declares.
The Melbourne-based photographer is showcasing his work as part of the Midsumma Festival.
The young Greek NBA forward talks exclusively to Neos Kosmos.
Dean Kalimniou reviews Alexander Billinis' latest book, Hidden Mosaics: An Aegean Tale.
Young footballers from South Melbourne FC are on a 12-day pilgrimage in Madrid.
A drag race has resulted in tragedy.
A delicious recipe by Ioanna Chalamouki of food blog Pasta Flora, soon to be featured in Neos Kosmos.
A Greek label is using rubber from dinghies and lifesaver jackets to produce bags for refugees, in collaboration with Lesvos-based volunteer group Platanos Solidarity.
Great for breakfast, brunch or a speedy meal.
Nick Savaidis learned about fair trade as a child - from his seamstress mother.
A female name of Greek origin has ranked number one across nine countries.