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Simos, Zacharias Theodore (Jack) (1897–1976)

by John Low

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Zacharias Theodore (Jack) Simos (1897-1976), confectioner and café proprietor, was born on 15 August 1897 at Kousounari, Kythera (Cerigo), Greece, eldest of four children of Theodore Zachariou Simos, farmer and cooper, and his wife Areanthe, née Theodorakakis. In 1912 Zacharias migrated to Sydney with several other Kytheran boys in the Omrah, disembarking on 13 May with little money and minimal English. In the following four years he worked in Greek cafés in Sydney and at Tenterfield, before setting up business at Windsor, where he served ham and eggs next door to a skating rink and sold fruit and vegetables door-to-door.

In 1916, having improved his English and saved sufficient funds, Simos established himself as a confectioner at Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, and opened a shop that would later become the Paragon café. In 1921, when he was naturalized, he was 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall with dark hair and dark eyes. That year he bought a commercial property at 110-114 Katoomba Street and three years later purchased the café premises he had been leasing at 65 Katoomba Street. 'Jack' Simos set about turning the Paragon into a high-class refreshment room. The popular Katoomba landmark Orphan Rock became his trademark, an image of the 'stand-alone' excellence to which he aspired. In 1925 Simos employed H. & E. Sidgreaves, the shop-fitting firm responsible for the design of Washington H. Soul's Sydney pharmacies, to convert the interior of the café premises on classical lines. A soda fountain, of the finest Moruya marble, and booths of Queensland maple were installed and the timber-panelled walls decorated with alabaster friezes depicting classical Greek figures.

In 1929 Simos returned to Kythera and spent a year in Europe observing trends in confectionery manufacture and café culture. He also arranged to import new ingredients and learned about presentation and packaging. On Kythera he met and courted Mary Panaretos (1912-2001). She had been born on 20 June 1912 at Elkton, Maryland, United States of America, where her parents were café proprietors who regularly spent the summer months on Kythera. Mary and Zacharias married there on 30 January 1930 and reached Katoomba later that year. Mary became identified with the Paragon; generous and cultured, she was always on hand to welcome visitors and press chocolates into the hands of children.

Simos immediately began planning two large extensions at the rear of his café, designed by the architect H. E. White: the banquet hall (1934), influenced by pre-Columbian decoration, was followed by the blue room (1936), in 'ocean liner' style, with mirrored walls and sprung dance floor. The Paragon gained a wide reputation. Its ice-creams—originally hand-churned and frozen with American ammonia freezing machines—and sundaes blended with syrups and fruit ingredients, often specially imported, and the Art Deco ambience attracted devoted customers. With the help of his brothers Peter and George, bread, cakes and pastries were manufactured on the premises, as well as chocolates and other confectioneries sold in exquisitely designed and coloured boxes.

In the early 1940s Simos built a house, Olympus, in Cliff Drive, near Echo Point, Katoomba, which was the principal family residence; he also maintained a home in Sydney at Centennial Park. He devoted many hours to his garden—the Paragon always had fresh flowers—loved music, played the violin and was a keen fisherman and backgammon player. Enjoying travel, he visited Europe, the U.S.A. and Kythera several times. He was a foundation member of Katoomba Rotary Club, which for many years held its meetings in the Paragon.

Simos's rise from penniless immigrant to successful businessman stemmed from his innate business sense, capacity for hard work and sense of community responsibility. He died on 15 November 1976 in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, and was buried in Randwick cemetery following a funeral at St George's Greek Orthodox Church, Rose Bay. His wife, who carried on as manager of the Paragon until 1987, and their two daughters and one son, a Supreme Court judge, survived him. The café was sold in 2000. Mary Simos died on 15 May 2001 at Rose Bay and was buried beside her husband. The café had been listed by the National Trust in New South Wales in 1975 and placed on the Australian Heritage Commission's 1977 Register of the National Estate. Despite concessions to changing times, the Paragon's interiors in 2005 still reflected the era in which they were created.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Confectioner, 22 July 1930, p 54
  • Bulletin, 5 Apr 1969, p 35, 8 May 1971, p 67
  • Blue Mountains Advertiser, 12 Aug 1971, p 4, 25 Nov 1976, p 10
  • Blue Mountains Echo, 1 May 1985, p 3, 19 June 1985, p 4, 7 Oct 1986, p 17
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Feb 1995, p 5, 22 May 2001, p 32
  • A1, item 1921/22059 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Katoomba Municipal Council, rate records, 1889-1947 (Blue Mountains City Library, Springwood, New South Wales)
  • Blue Mountains heritage inventory sheets relating to Paragon Café (Blue Mountains City Council, Katoomba, New South Wales).

Citation details

John Low, 'Simos, Zacharias Theodore (Jack) (1897–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/simos-zacharias-theodore-jack-13195/text23889, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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