Step Inside the Rose Marie

Orange's Greek Cafe Culture

In 1923, George Kringas (formerly Krigkas) migrated from the Peloponnese to Australia in search of a better life. Just one year later he opened his Greek café named the Rose Marie in Orange. From the early twentieth century, Greek entrepreneurs like George established cafes that were a mix of the late nineteenth century British-style oyster-bar and the twentieth century’s American-style sundae parlour and milk bar.

Greek cafes, referred to as such because they were owned and run by Greek families, established prominence in both rural and metropolitan centres. Opening at 7am and closing at midnight, Greek cafes were popular because they were friendly places.

The Rose Marie became an iconic meeting place, but it was not the only, nor the first, Greek café in Orange. Chris Chellas, who also migrated from the Peloponnese, established the Silver Key Fish and Oyster Café on Summer Street just after 1912. Chris’ wife and daughter Maude joined him in 1924. The two cafe families became united in kinship when George and Maude married in 1933, and from then on ran the Rose Marie together.

At the Rose Marie patrons entered through double art deco style doors with the initials ‘RM’ printed on frosted glass. They were welcomed into a very modern café that had a long serving counter and boasted a soda machine. Mirrors lined the walls and the café seated up to 170 people. Eight local girls and three Greek cooks were on staff.

George and Maude worked long arduous hours, they had little social life away from the café. Alongside ‘Australian’ meals that included steak, pie and eggs, the café served hamburgers and a selection of milkshakes, ice cream sundaes and other ‘candy’, all of which were pioneered and popularised in America in these decades.

Into the second half of the twentieth century, with the rise of fast food outlets and changes made to the state’s liquor law that meant pubs could stay open longer, milk bar style cafes began to disappear from many town streetscapes. As a result of this cultural change and after forty years in business, in the 1970s George and Maude retired and closed the doors of the Rose Marie for good.