This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012
Annie Helen Pura (c.1894-1982), restaurateur, was born around 1894 at Kalisz (Kalish), Russian Poland, daughter of Jacob Joseph Landau, teacher (Pura said that he was a rabbi), and his wife Rebecca, née Gold. About 1900 the family migrated to England, where Helen worked as a machinist. On 21 January 1912 at the East London Synagogue, Mile End, she married Leo(n) Pura, a tailor. The couple and their daughter moved to Australia in 1914; Leon set up as a tailor in Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Helen met a chef, Emile (Emilio) Cremier, who in 1924 was struggling to establish an Italian restaurant, the Latin Café, in the Royal Arcade, Pitt Street. Initially a partner in the business, she soon bought Emilio out although he stayed on as chef. ‘I wanted to start a cafe because I’d never had enough to eat’ while growing up, she later said.
‘Madame Pura’, as she styled herself, had a larger-than-life personality and made ‘the Latin’ an institution. Lunch trade was brisk with business and professional people but dinner was more relaxed. Patrons came from all walks of life and included racing identities, actors and musicians. Cartoonists such as Joe Jonsson, Syd Nicholls and George Finey ate there. The Latin was also popular with homosexuals, Pura calling them ‘the people I adore’. Visiting celebrities over three decades included Fritz Kreisler, Dame Nellie Melba, Anna Pavlova, Ezio Pinza, Artur Rubinstein, H. G. Wells and, during World War II, Prince Philip. Pura claimed that the soprano Toti Dal Monte and the tenor Enzo De Muro Lomanto, in Sydney for the J. C. Williamson-Melba grand opera season, fell in love over pasta at the Latin; they married in Sydney in 1928.
Plump and blonde, ‘La Pura’ enthusiastically kissed and embraced her regular customers and would sometimes entertain them with an enormous repertoire of rude jokes. Despite the Latin’s bohemian reputation, she ran a tight ship and did not tolerate ‘hobohemians’. Those who would not conform to her dress standards were not welcome; men were required to wear a tie and were not allowed to remove their coats if they had braces on. The fact that she took no nonsense from anyone—she was ‘great on face-slapping, when necessary’—ensured that the restaurant survived, despite court appearances in 1929 and 1939 for illegally serving wine. ‘I ran it with éclat’, she said.
Chef Emilio was a perfectionist. He lived in a room next to the restaurant and was up at 3.45 a.m. each day to buy fresh market produce. Emilio adapted his cuisine to local ingredients. His minestrone had nineteen vegetables in it—twenty if the tiny brussels sprouts that he favoured were in season. He never took a holiday and used the Christmas break to repaint the restaurant. His death in 1953 resulted in the Latin closing its doors for good.
A living legend, in her later years Pura lived in a small unit at Paddington, where she enjoyed a long retirement. She and her husband had divorced in 1945. Survived by her daughter and son, she died on 12 March 1982 at Darlinghurst and was buried in the Jewish section of Rookwood cemetery.
Peter Kirkpatrick, 'Pura, Annie Helen (1894–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pura-annie-helen-15557/text26770, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 29 March 2017.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012