When Greg Robotis, owner of the immensely popular Hunky Dory, was a youngster, there were two parts of his life that he genuinely hated. And, the way Greg explains it, really hated. One was travelling out on his father’s fishing trawler where the weather and the sea made him very ill and very scared.
“I absolutely hated it. I got sick all the time and the weather was just so rough whereas for my father and my grandfather who started fishing in Lemnos (a beautiful Greek island), it was just all part of the job to them,” he said.
“But for me as a kid I was just a mess when we went out but I had no choice, no matter how ill or frightened I got, it was part of my upbringing.”
While weathering that storm, Robotis, had the school holidays to look forward to but not the same way others of his age did. Not for him were the carefree days of the holidays; his place was in the family fish and chop in Altona from the age of 12.
Again his loathing of the sea kicked in. “While other kids were out playing and doing their own thing, I was behind the register when I was 12,” Robotis, now 37, said.
“Boy did I envy the other kids and that went on throughout the time I was in high school. But what really got to me the most was the grease and the smell because we are talking old school fish and chip shops here. I hated it, I just hated it. I thought at the time I was being deprived of my childhood.”
After completing Year 12, Robotis couldn’t get away quick enough much like a fish thrashing off a hook just before it was hauled in.
“I travelled for a year and then thought about going to university but I went off and got involved in transport for five or six years. I just wanted a total break from the sea and its food and the grease and the smell of fish and chips,” he explained.
As far as Robotis was concerned, that despite having grown up in Williamstown surrounded by the sea and given an albeit unwilling education in the art of a timeless food favourite, nice clothes and looking cool was his true calling.
As far he was concerned that meant getting into the café/restaurant game. He joined with a couple of friends – Debra Slaughter and James Nezos.
“They took me on board working for them in cafes and restaurants, just working on the floor and learning about the business and after they saw how eager I was they offered me an opportunity on the side,” he recalled. That opportunity turned out to be at 181 Bay Street. “I saw a café and a restaurant and they turned around to me and said I had all I this experience around fish so let’s combine the two together and I thought ‘Oh no, not that’. I really couldn’t believe it.”
Naturally visions of greasy fish and chips began to fill his head. “I thought I was going to be covered in grease again and walk around smelling like greasy fish and chips,” he laughed.
Robotis said the irony was dripping all over him. “Here I was having spent all my life wanting to get away from fish and chip shops and now I was going back into it. It’s just the ultimate irony really, for me at least.”
Nonetheless, Robotis had his own vision of what he could achieve with his new venture and that didn’t involve going out trawling for fish or standing over a steaming hot fryer.
“I was trying to turn fish and chips into a healthy meal by serving with rice and salad and bringing the flavours of the Mediterranean."
Having bought out James Nezos’s share, Robotis, and Hunky Dory’s manager, Ben Mandanici, meticulously set about creating a new style but with the help of some very familiar faces – his mother and father, Helen and Arthur, sister, Helen, and his recently departed grandfather Greg Giannaros who passed away last year aged 91.
“He was still this lovely little old man working in the corner of Hunky Dory making up the boxes for the take away fish and chips,” Robotis said.
“Dad, whose 67 now, is still out fishing on his trawler Sally Ann supplying all the fish so it really made me realise that even though I hated those days going out fishing, I now realise how valuable it was. I just never thought that one day it would pay off.
“It’s been quite the journey from Dad and my grandfather fishing off Lemnos to where we are today. Who would’ve thought? Not me, I can tell you.”