Charlie Checks Out
After more than three decades at the helm of one of the best community-oriented food outlets in the Eastern Suburbs, Charlie Koutsourais and his wife Helen have packed up their groceries and moved on.
Charlie’s Foodworks in Burnie Street was a local icon and a popular one-stop shopping venue for locals who were always greeted with a friendly smile and a chat, no matter how crowded.
After arriving from the Greek Islands as an 18 year-old, Charlie, now 69, spent the first six months as a factory worker in Melbourne, before moving to Sydney and working as a handyman and on building sites.
His first shop was in Burnie Street in the late ‘70s where the yoga studio now is.
“I had a small shop at the front and a bakery at the back,” Charlie said. “It was very hard work because I was working 16 hours a day both in the shop and bakery to pay the rent.
“In 1983 I moved to the existing location with only the one shop front and in 1995 I bought next door and the business was then called Charlie’s Groceries.
For the past 10 years the shop has operated under the Foodworks umbrella, but Charlie was permitted to put his name in front of it.
As well as catering for all the locals, Charlie supported numerous charities and junior sports clubs, and always had a treat for the kids from the Clovelly Child Care Centre on their regular excursions to Clovelly Beach.
In the end it was Helen who played a major part in wrapping up the business.
At a Foodworks conference in Bali last year she let it be known she was getting tired of working in the business and the next day they were approached by a potential buyer.
“The same person then came to the shop in Sydney and basically that was it,” Charlie said.
It was a family business which also included Charlie’s sister, son Mick, daughter Anna, and her husband John.
Mick, who was born and raised in Clovelly, said he was relieved his parents had finally retired and that the pressure of the long hours was off them.
“It was too tiring for them and there was no family time, especially now they are grandparents,” he said.
“And we are also enjoying not worrying about the shop, especially at night. We were rolled a couple of times, once with a knife to the throat, but really nothing too serious.”
Charlie says he is sad he no longer has the business and said he sometimes has a tear in his eye after leaving.
“I loved that shop. I spent half my life there and we had the best customers. I don’t think there is any other shop around that has the same great customers we had.”
“But this was the first year we spent Christmas and New Year with the whole family.”
For now Charlie is enjoying a bit of travel and fishing and he still pops in to the shop every day from his residence above the business.
He and Helen are off to Greece in June, but in the meantime they are still ‘Clovellyites’ who always have time for a smile and a chat with the locals.