Eleni Amanatidis, Resident of Altona North
Eleftheria ‘Thierry’ Amanatidis, Resident of Footscray
Eleni Amanatidis, owner and manager of Eleni’s Kitchen + Bar
I was born on 10 April 1935 in Komnina, a village in the Ptolemaida municipality of Greece. I am the first of three girls. Sofia is my younger sister, and our youngest sister Despina was born 18 years after I was born. When I was 15 I was learning how to be a seamstress, learning my craft for a few years before opening my own shop at 19. I enjoyed sewing and was teaching other women how to be a seamstress.
I didn’t leave the area and had only finished primary school, as this was just after the Greek Civil War. I remember being poor, and my father was in the army. I was doing well in sewing school, and my father had just returned from the war. Not knowing what to do, we opened a family café in Komnina as we lived in the town centre. Ptolemaida has a healthy climate and was more well-off and advanced than other surrounding regions. Most of the men in the area were the same age as my father.
By chance, I got to know the family of one of the first Greek Orthodox priests who arrived in Australia, Antonios Amanatidis. Antonios had gone to the war but was sent back when the Army found out he had four kids. When he returned he decided to leave his village in Kastoria and arrived in Ptolemaida.
Coincidentally, the priest in Komnina had just passed away, and there was no priest. Antonios took it upon himself to settle down in Komnina and became the priest of our village.
By then, I was busy teaching sewing and also involved in the church as a religious teacher. There was a lady who lived in the neighbourhood and she taught Grade 5 and 6. As I had a teaching background, it was only natural for me to begin teaching. I was pulled in to teach Grade 3 and 4. As I was teaching the kids about religion, I got to know the priest who had passed away. That’s how I got to know Antonios when he arrived soon after.
Four months later, Antonios’ son Dimitrios came to the village. By then, I was well-mingled within Antonios’ family. My paternal cousins had family ties within the village as well, so I was among family.
When Dimitrios and I met, there was an instant attraction. The problem was, my Dad had already arranged another man to marry me. He was from the same village. I didn’t even know who he was apart from him being a good person and was the same age as I was.
Dimitrios heard about this and he immediately wrote me a note and ‘kleftikame’ (eloped). It effectively means ‘I am going to come for you.’ He was insistent I was his. I was thrilled as my main concern was to get away from the other man.
We decided to leave the village one night and began walking at 9pm. We walked for the whole night towards another village, where Dimitrios’ friend was waiting for us.”
Part 1 of 2 – Eleftheria
“I was born in 1996. Growing up, I wanted to drop out in Year 10 and head to TAFE to focus on hair and makeup but my parents didn’t allow it. I completed high school, and like Eleni wanted to be a seamstress or in a design school. I’m more of a hands-on person than a bookworm. However, after I began researching I realised I had to head to uni so I decided against it as I didn’t want to be in school anymore.
Wanting to pursue my hair and makeup aspirations, I enrolled at Victoria Uni and pursued an 18 months course. During this time, I did a RMIT fashion shoot and worked alongside an Australian swimwear designer, founder of Myraswim. It was exciting.
In comparison, my sister Anatoli is the bookworm. She pursued a Bachelor, followed by a Masters and now works in the academic field.
I’ve always lived in the West. My primary and high school was in Altona, and I spent all my school holidays at Eleni’s, and my maternal grandmother’s house. Anatoli and I would have sleepovers, bake with them and soak in their passion for cooking. We would learn about where we come from, and just by being with them every day, we picked up the language as well.
Before the shop opened, I was working in salons in Port Melbourne and West Footscray, focusing on makeup. I’ve only wanted to continue Eleni’s legacy, and it has never crossed my mind that it wouldn’t be a restaurant. We have had a lot of help from family along the way, especially from my Uncle Tony who owned Mum’s Pizza Restaurant and Moonliters Pizza Café, right here in Yarraville from 1983 to 2003.
This shop used to be Marita’s of Yarraville, which occupied a much smaller area. When the lease came up, we were attracted to the amount of foot traffic. It was rare for a shop to be available for lease. Oddly enough, there are now some shops available for lease.
Looking back, we didn’t think it would take that long to set it up. There were a lot of hoops we had to jump through. During the construction period, I was still working in the salon, spending half my week there, and the other half here. Once we had some sort of framework to play with, I started getting involved in the construction. I helped with the tiling, the waterproofing, painting and even the sanding of the wood. I was involved from the ground up. This restaurant is my baby.
When Anatoli and I asked Eleni about continuing her legacy, she had no objections. Over the years, she has had all her recipes written down into a book. She has always handwritten them, so she would never forget them. The book is older than I am!”