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Andronicus, John Damianos (1894–1973)

by D. W. A. Baker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

John Damianos Andronicus (1894-1973), coffee merchant, was born on 23 October 1894 at Mylopatamo (Potamós), Kithira, Greece, youngest of eleven children of Damianos Nicholas Andronicus, fisherman, and his wife Vassiliki, née Karidis. The pressure of population on limited resources encouraged migration, as it had done in Greece for centuries. John followed five of his brothers to Australia, reaching Sydney in the Bremen on 10 November 1908. He went to school, initially with no knowledge of English, at West Maitland and Tamworth before joining his brothers' business in 1910.

The most prominent of them, Emanuel, had opened a chocolate shop—with coffee as a sideline—in George Street near Circular Quay in 1904. The Andronicus brothers also conducted an enterprising wholesale business with Greek shopkeepers in several country towns. Emanuel prospered. He was Greek consul in Sydney in 1924-30 and helped many Greeks to establish themselves in what he always thought was a land of opportunity. A warm supporter of the Labor Party, he encouraged Greek Australians to vote in State and Federal elections. Meanwhile John was learning the business: he became skilled in tea and coffee blending, and in assisting with sales, especially on the north coast. He, too, prospered, and was naturalized in 1924. On 29 December 1928 he married Kathleen Ellen Gordon at St Sophia's, the Greek Orthodox cathedral in Sydney. They were to have two sons, Charles and George.

In 1936 John bought the firm and next year established Andronicus Bros. He and the indefatigable Kathleen ran the business between them. From Arabia, Africa, India, Brazil and New Guinea, they imported coffee beans which they roasted and ground for both the retail and wholesale trades; in addition, they sold continental foods such as olives, sesame seeds, cheeses and halva, as well as hand-made chocolates. John worked fourteen hours a day, seven days a week; it would be years before he could spend much time on his extensive coin collection, his passion for woodworking, his love of boating, or his penchant for driving fast cars.

The influx of European migrants after 1945 helped to acquaint Australians with foreign tastes and increased the popularity of European foods. The advent of Nescafé instant coffee in 1947 appears to have stimulated demand for real coffee. Soon the Andronicus family was selling their coffee in bulk to grocers' shops and cafés. In the early 1960s Charles and George established their own wholesale company, Andronicus Coffee Pty Ltd. John and Kathleen continued at the George Street shop until 1973 when it was closed to make way for 'development' (the Regent hotel now stands on the site). Three months later, on 15 July 1973, Andronicus died at his Gordon home and was cremated with Anglican rites; his wife and sons survived him.

John had long aspired to build a business that could be taken over and enjoyed by his sons. In this ambition he eminently succeeded. He left a well-established company with an excellent reputation for stability and probity. His sons found no difficulty in obtaining credit to expand until, in 1983, they sold out, like so many successful Australian family businesses in recent decades, to a multi-national corporation, in this case the Swiss-owned Nestlé Australia Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Ostrow, The New Boy Network (Melb, 1987)
  • K. Dunstan, The Perfect Cup (Syd, 1989)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Aug 1954, 9 Feb 1960, 11 Feb 1974
  • naturalisation file, A1/1 24/26002 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

D. W. A. Baker, 'Andronicus, John Damianos (1894–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/andronicus-john-damianos-9365/text16449, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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