In the days before Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and Franklins, the Gunnedah community was serviced by three large department stores which had well-stocked grocery departments.

In 1957, another hardworking Greek immigrant from the island of Kythera established Thriftway, Gunnedah’s first dedicated supermarket.

Panagiotis Venardos or Peter as he was known, was no stranger to his adopted town, he had already been in business since 1945 when he took up the Acropolis Café. Peter came to Australia as a 12-year-old in 1936 to join his uncle and two older brothers. He could not speak a word of English but it was the start of a new life for him.

He worked in Sydney, Nowra and Tamworth before coming to Gunnedah. He was later joined by his brother-in-law Theo Souris and they ran the Acropolis together until 1957 when Peter set up Thriftway Supermarket, which was so successful it became the largest privately-owned supermarket in the North West.

At one time the supermarket had more than 20 employees, including 16 permanent staff members. As the large supermarket chains moved into Gunnedah in the late 1970s, Peter Venardos turned the supermarket into a delicatessen – and that’s how the business traded until his retirement in 1994. It became a regular meeting place for locals who have fond memories of dropping in for a chat with Peter, browsing the newspapers and discussing local and world affairs.

School children loved calling in to the deli for a cellophane bag of hot chips doused in black sauce and costing just six pence.

Peter Venardos, centre, pictured with his nephew George Souris, then NSW Leader of the National Party and Rotarian George Paul, left. The photo was taken in 2001 when Peter was honoured with the prestigious Service Above Self award.

Peter and his wife Diana were married in 1953 and they previously ran the White Rose Café, with long hours a way of life for the couple.

Over the years Peter Venardos developed a warm working relationship with the Gunnedah community, gaining the respect of everyone in the business sector. Over the years, there were many thousands of acts of kindness to people in need, many families never knowing who their benefactor was.

His generosity was legendary – he did thousands of favours for people and many sporting and community groups benefitted from his charity, always quietly given without any thought of recognition.

Peter and Diana Venardos raised three sons – George, Jim and Paul. George Venardos became a nationally ranked swimmer after a strong push by his father to have a swimming pool established in town.

The impetus came after a tragic drowning death of a nephew Georges Souris (13) in the river on Christmas day 1952, when the Greek families were enjoying a picnic, which included swimming and fishing.

Peter strongly believed that everyone should learn to swim and when the pool opened in 1955, he became actively involved in the swimming club and was later honoured with life membership. Swimmers and officials always looked forward to the barrels of cold orange freeze donated by Peter on carnival day.

When Peter finally retired in 1994 at the age of 72, he maintained close friendships and was an influential member of the community. He always said that he had been proud to be a citizen of Gunnedah, right from the day he arrived: “I liked Gunnedah because I liked the people – the people make the town.”

A little slice of local history died when Peter Venardos closed his doors in October 1994, but the couple stayed in Gunnedah after their retirement living in their George Street home.

In 2001, Peter was honoured with the Rotary ‘Service Above Self’ award for dedicated service to the community in a voluntary or professional capacity over a lengthy period. A key component of the award was that the recipient “should not have received nor sought little or no public recognition for his service.”

There was a sense of great loss when news of his death filtered through on January 14, 2010 after months of very poor health but his legacy and those of other Greek immigrants will live on.

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