Manuel’s back ‘home’ at Ainslie IGA and its famous wall of cheese

Michael Weaver 3 August 2020 23
Manuel Xyrakis

Manuel Xyrakis is part of the fabric of the community. Photos: Michael Weaver.

Manuel Xyrakis always wanted a cash register for Christmas and had aspirations of being an accountant.

Instead, he inherited a supermarket that has become his second home.

He’s really only had a break at his first home due to COVID-19.

Mr Xyrakis jokes his nephews Nicholas, Dimitri and Keith locked him out of the Ainslie IGA during the COVID-19 pandemic so he could take an extended break and help look after his family.

Manuel and his nephews

Manuel and his nephews Dimitri, Nick and Keith at the famed wall of cheese.

“It was hard to be told to get out of the shop, but the boys wanted me to be at home looking after their grandmother,” Manuel tells Region Media over a coffee and a few laughs about life in the popular supermarket that is an institution in Ainslie and for many Canberrans.

His mother and family matriarch, Alice, is now 89 years old, so the boys had already made the decision for their boss and mentor to be at home.

“But I was just moping around the house for two months while the boys worked seven days a week. I was a lost soul,” Manuel said. “I’m the captain of the ship but I wasn’t there to support the boys. They even blocked me from their group chat,” he says laughing.

But the boys didn’t just keep the supermarket afloat – they kept locals in business and staff employed. When the florist next door had to temporarily close, the IGA sold her flowers.

Manuel is now back at his second home, among an extended family of locals and staff members like Domenic who has been their grocery manager since 1974. Domenic also bakes the bread that is sold there daily.

The Ainslie supermarket in 1988

The Ainslie supermarket in 1988 when it was part of the Shop-Rite chain. Photo: Supplied.

About 200 local producers supply Ainslie IGA, with everything from homemade marinated octopus to frozen baby food.

And then there’s the cheese.

The ‘cheese wall’ began life as just two shelves, but as the name suggests, it now occupies an entire wall of the supermarket, offering more than 250 varieties.

“In a supermarket, you don’t make money selling Kellogg’s Cornflakes and Nescafe. You have to be a point of difference, so we put our resources into what I call the ‘fresh department’ – the meats, fruit and vegetables and, of course, the cheese.

“I was a bit sceptical about selling so much cheese but we gave it a go.

“When we opened up the deli and the cheese wall, the reaction from the customers was just amazing. We exceeded our sales target by $20,000 in the first week,” says Manuel.

It was, literally, the ‘say cheese’ moment.

According to nephew Nick: “We had customers coming in asking if this was the place with the cheese. They would end up taking selfies with the cheese in the background.”

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It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the family, though.

The Xyrakis family purchased three other supermarkets in 1976, at Hawker, Kambah and Batemans Bay. By 1978, those three shops had been placed in receivership and eventually became Woolworths supermarkets.

Aged 23, the would-be accountant Manuel says he received a “double degree in life”.

“I remember seeing my dad break down, but in the same moment, he banged his fist on the table and said ‘We’re going to get out this’. He set out the strategies and together we got through it.”

The supermarket will have its challenges to come, but Manuel says its future is safe in the hands of the third generation who will soon run it.

“When my parents told me that I was going to run the shop, we made our mistakes, but we never made the mistake of not listening to what our customers were telling us, and that was to support the local community and they will always support you back.”

“The last thing my father told me before he died 34 years ago was to never sell the shop.

“So my plan now is to show the boys how to have a future here, but one where they can have a little more balance in life,” Manuel says.

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23 Responses to Manuel’s back ‘home’ at Ainslie IGA and its famous wall of cheese
viking princess viking princess 6:55 pm 06 Aug 20

Very happy to say I can see myself and two of my children in that opening day photo. Congratulations on your success Manuel, Lord knows your and your family deserve it!! Those nephews are such a blessing to you! So wonderful to hear your Mum is still with us. My Dad will 93 next month. Family is everything! Thanks for the great service and great memories!

Nicholas Elizabeth Swain Nicholas Elizabeth Swain 5:10 pm 06 Aug 20

Many of us travel across town for the cheese - even from south of the lake!

Nick Savino Nick Savino 10:22 am 03 Aug 20

Great food and staff ...

Angela Thomas Angela Thomas 7:43 am 03 Aug 20

It is absolutely the best local supermarket around. I’m really grateful that it is our local supermarket!

Lesley Fisk Lesley Fisk 11:31 pm 02 Aug 20

Best IGA in Canberra

Diane Tony Bugg Diane Tony Bugg 9:52 pm 02 Aug 20

It is a great shop. Good deli with all fresh products, fantastic cheese selection, in shop butcher, big array of bread, excellent fruit and vegetables, and all the other things you expect in a supermarket. They have a large number of staff stocking shelves and working on the checkouts.

Congratulations to Manuel.

Nell Taylor Nell Taylor 9:52 pm 02 Aug 20

My favourite IGA for 15 years and counting!

Sarah Robinson Sarah Robinson 8:19 pm 02 Aug 20

Gary Scarborough and Som this is the amazing man from the Ainslie IGA!

Robyn Baker Robyn Baker 7:38 pm 02 Aug 20

Peter from Sparta (now defunct) says hello and it was always a pleasure to deal with you guys at Ainslie.

Patrizia Berti Patrizia Berti 7:26 pm 02 Aug 20

Great cheese selection and deli !

Leos Nikias Leos Nikias 7:20 pm 02 Aug 20

Great work by the Xyrakis family! 👏👏👏

Virginia Berger Virginia Berger 4:05 pm 02 Aug 20

The best IGA in Canberra by a long shot: beautiful fresh vegetables, fantastic meat, and the cheese . . .

Dorothy Simm Dorothy Simm 3:39 pm 02 Aug 20

great shop for French butter

Jan Read Jan Read 2:01 pm 02 Aug 20

Congratulations to you all and thank you 😊

Irene Ussenko Irene Ussenko 1:45 pm 02 Aug 20

Best selection of cheese I’ve seen anywhere in Canberra.

Dianne Parker Dianne Parker 1:30 pm 02 Aug 20

Great shop so many items you cannot get anywhere else keep up the good work.

Paula Simcocks Paula Simcocks 11:41 am 02 Aug 20

Great family

Roz Lemon Roz Lemon 10:58 am 02 Aug 20

A wall of cheese?? I’m in! Great story about strong work ethic and family values.

June Kirk June Kirk 9:01 am 02 Aug 20

The store is amazing and the story behind it is beautiful 🤗

Stephanie Ciempka Stephanie Ciempka 7:43 am 02 Aug 20

It really is an Institution. They deserve everything they get as they have worked so hard for it. Congratulations, to your success.


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