A man known for his ‘larger than life personality’, Thanasis Spanos passed peacefully and surrounded by family on Friday.
But his loss is mourned not only by relatives, but also the scores of friends he leaves behind with the best of memories.
Spanos was a pioneer in Melbourne’s hospitality industry, having established the iconic Medallion on Lonsdale Street, Thanasis tavern at Hughesdale and last but not least Vanilla at Oakleigh.
Beyond a successful businessman though, he is remembered by many in the community for his generosity, humour and filotimo.
President of the Greek Community of Melbourne and Victoria, Bill Papastergiadis, shares his own farewell message to Thanasis:
“On Friday night I received a text message telling me that Thanasis Spanos had passed away. A wave of emotion swept over me. This was a person I had met and had known for some time.
Once a week I would make the journey to Vanilla to meet friends and drink my frappe. Thanasis on seeing me, would shout out “Vasilaki, sit with me.” I could not argue with him.
He would then quickly call out to a waitress “two ouzos for me and Vasilaki, and a mezze, and some fish too and ….”
Again, although most often I had eaten before my trip, I had learned it was pointless to argue with Thanasis.
Thanasis embodied filotimo. His smile enveloped you. His warm embrace, the hand shake and the earnest stare into your eyes made you feel you were at home. There are hundreds of cafes closer to my home than Vanilla, but I felt at home at Vanilla. I felt at home with Thanasis.
I only met Thanasis after he had opened Vanilla. I didn’t know him from his 20 years at Medallion in Lonsdale St. Yet I felt I knew him forever. His stories about the historical heart of Greece in Melbourne, Lonsdale St, brought to life my parent’s generation. He would recount the characters that frequented medallion, their struggles and joys. As he was telling me these stories, I was transported in time to the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
He had an honesty about his life which was endearing. It heightened my admiration of him. Those days and stories of the ’60s and ’70s reminded me of the travels of Zorba the Greek. They were tough times when multiculturalism was not Government policy, and where these young Greek Australians, now elderly, forged their own identity.
Often when I sat with Thanasi, another friend of mine, Christos Papadopoulos would also join us. He summed up Thanasis to me simply today. Christos said ” Thanasi was an unassuming, warmhearted, decent and honest person with love for everyone. He had a smile that you often found in a child which revealed a playful and sincere approach to life.”
So my trips to Vanilla will never be the same again for me without Thanasi. People like him are gone but we have not forgotten them. They have left a mark on our lives that will remain forever.”