The Institutions: Queanbeyan’s Melita Coffee Lounge still going strong after 33 years

Michelle Rowe 26 May 2021 27
Denis and Eleni Sakkas at Melita

Denis Sakkas and his mum Eleni, 95, who still works in the kitchen at Melita Coffee Lounge. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The unassuming cafe on Queanbeyan’s busiest street wouldn’t win any awards for its décor. Beige walls completely unadulterated by pictures, a smattering of bare wooden tables and chairs lining its periphery, and a drinks fridge and a small display of cakes and slices at the service counter are pretty much the shape of things as you step inside Melita Coffee Lounge.

In fact, if you’re distracted by the tattoo parlour right next door as you stroll along Monaro Street, you might miss it altogether.

But looks clearly aren’t everything because, in the notoriously fickle world of hospitality, where cafes can come and go in an instant, owner Denis Sakkas and his parents have been part of the local landscape for 33 years. If you count the 17 years it was run by a Maltese family before the Sakkases took it over, Melita celebrates its 50th birthday this month.

“It’s probably the oldest cafe in Queanbeyan,” says Denis, who runs through a list of other hospitality stalwarts that could have been contenders – the old Central Cafe that closed after nearly 40 years in 2020, the Paragon …

But even if Melita doesn’t hold the Queanbeyan record for most years trading, few could beat another achievement clocked up by the Sakkases. At the ripe old age of 95, Denis’s mum Eleni is still going strong in the kitchen, working alongside her son to turn out a daily production line of lunch and breakfast specials.

“Her ticker and engine are pretty good,” says Denis, adding that Eleni’s doctor marvels at how fit and healthy she is despite being just a few years shy of receiving a letter from the Queen.

“And the reality is, if she goes home, she has to hang out with Dad, who can be a bit annoying.”

The Melita Reuben

The Reuben pork toastie substitutes the traditional corned beef for Denis’s homemade pulled pork. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

Born and bred in Queanbeyan, Denis credits the love of food he inherited from his Greek parents for his enduring career.

“I was in my early 20s and was working part-time in my uncle’s takeaway, then did a bit of real estate and worked as a bank teller, but I wanted to try my hand at running my own business,” he says.

“I’d never cooked or worked in hospitality before, but having a Greek mum really helped. Things evolved from there.”

Far from following expectations and delivering a Greek-inspired menu, however, Denis describes the flavour at Melita as ‘eclectic’.

“A lot of people asked me why I don’t just do Greek, but I like a bit of a mishmash,” he says.

Two A-frames on the footpath outside the cafe and the full menu inside bear testimony to that. Melita’s dishes chart a world tour through Japan, Mexico, India and the US, with a bit of variation on tradition thrown in for good measure.

Okonomiyaki, the popular Japanese pancake, gets the Melita treatment with a topping of avocado and poached eggs. Spanish rice with crispy mojo pork, guacamole and nacho cheese sauce is another popular choice, alongside a veggie korma and a Cuban toastie.

I order the Reuben pork toastie, in which the traditional corned beef is replaced with pulled pork that Denis has made in-house. It comes packed with sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, with the usual rye substituted with toasted sourdough.

Melita's Spanish rice

Melita’s Spanish rice comes with crispy pork, guacamole and a nacho cheese sauce. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

“We’ve got Asian, Mexican, European, a bit of everything,” says Denis, who is himself vegan, “but I’m not militant about it”.

The beauty of that is that Denis can turn his hand to doing vegan variations of many of his meat-based menu items.

To my mind, what Melita offers is comfort, both in its generous servings of hearty, homemade food and in the warm welcome it gives its customers, many of whom have been visiting for years.

Charlie Tizzard

Melita regular Charlie Tizzard at the cafe. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Charlie Tizzard, who runs a digital marketing agency a few doors down from Melita, regards the cafe as an extension of his office.

“Our team tries to have lunch together every day, and I often ask Denis just to surprise me with whatever he wants to cook,” says Charlie. “It’s a real highlight of the day. When we have clients in, and many of them are veterans, we’ll pop in for food or coffee. Melita is the campfire that brings everyone together.”

Charlie and I stop by the kitchen on our way out to meet Eleni, who for years he’s simply called ‘Mumma’. It turns out that toiling in a commercial kitchen well into one’s 90s is not always a sure-fire way to escape one’s husband.

Alex – Denis’s dad and Eleni’s other half – is perched on a small stool in the pantry as we enter and greets us with a big smile.

I coax Alex out for a photo opportunity with his industrious wife and son. Charlie reckons he’s going to frame it. I hope so … they could do with a picture or two on the wall of the well-visited dining room.

Melita Coffee Lounge is at 45 Monaro Street and is open for breakfast and lunch.

Melita Coffee Lounge, Queanbeyan

Denis Sakkas with his parents Eleni and Alex at the cafe. Photo: Michelle Rowe.

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27 Responses to The Institutions: Queanbeyan’s Melita Coffee Lounge still going strong after 33 years
Mary Twigg Mary Twigg 4:54 pm 19 May 21

Congrulations to you and your family Denniss, tell mumma i said hello, , 50 year's and going strong , will call in to say hi soon, keep up the good work.xx🎈🎈🎈🎈🎈cheers Melita.

Jelena Vidakovic Jelena Vidakovic 11:06 am 17 May 21

Well done Denis & family. Great food, friendly service and awesome coffee. ☕️🍰🍔

John Mangos John Mangos 1:17 am 17 May 21

Denno, Eleni and Alex, Well done!
I’ve been a regular there since 91.
Great coffee & food, many laughs & serious talks and Denno’s “Melita Style wisdom”, up there with confucious or Aristotle !
You can’t go past the “El standardo” or Classico” sandwich!

Shara N Ben Janiak Shara N Ben Janiak 10:12 am 16 May 21

I used to love going to Melitas when I lived and worked in Qbn. Great service and fantastic food, a real gem 🤎

Sue West Sue West 8:44 am 16 May 21

Emma Matthews lunch here one day?

    Emma Matthews Emma Matthews 9:30 am 16 May 21

    Sue West im keen the menu seems interesting. Never noticed this place before.

Meredith Walton Meredith Walton 8:40 am 16 May 21

Ro Rowan Lang next breakfast adventure?

Ken McInnes Ken McInnes 11:02 am 15 May 21

Great people great coffee always a smile just a happy place. Well done it’s always nice to see a family working together dad has the bests smile you can see he is very proud of the wife and son. 🌹❤️

    Suzanne McInnes Suzanne McInnes 8:56 pm 15 May 21

    Ken McInnes it is a lovely friendly place to go with great food. We have been there for breakfast on many sad occasions. Without intrusion this family somehow makes us feel a little better. God bless them 🙏💜

    Kristy Lee Morrison Kristy Lee Morrison 10:26 pm 17 May 21

    Ken McInnes Used to go for coffee there in the mornings on a walk and they’re always so friendly 🥰 Great family business in Queanbeyan.

Neridah McMinn Neridah McMinn 9:18 am 15 May 21

My absolute favourite place for a Saturday morning breaky 💕

Graeme Jeffries Graeme Jeffries 8:39 am 15 May 21

I always stop there for a great coffee and toasted cheese and tomato sandwich. A friendly place and service with a smile! May you both go on for years!

Fran Morrison Fran Morrison 8:39 am 15 May 21

Congratulations ! Nice to see these familiar faces . Well done on the service you bring to Queanbeyan. Bruce & Fran

Andrew Monterosso Andrew Monterosso 7:01 am 15 May 21

Well Done Denis great cafe

Sarah Warren Sarah Warren 6:01 am 15 May 21

Kathy Thompson Rueben!!

Helen Mangos-Chadwick Helen Mangos-Chadwick 1:24 am 15 May 21

What a beautiful photo, well done Dennis!!! 👌

Lorraine White Lorraine White 8:49 pm 14 May 21

Really good food and such great people. Love it.

Kathleen Brooks Kathleen Brooks 6:28 pm 14 May 21

Juha Turunen this is what I was talking about.

Fiona Mutton Fiona Mutton 6:26 pm 14 May 21

Such a great cafe , always friendly and some of the best food in the region, whenever I am driving through from Braidwood this is my go to place... always thought it was a hidden gem... now no longer😊

Andrew Herring Andrew Herring 4:36 pm 14 May 21

Great family team - can’t wait to have a Rueben when I come back to Queanbeyan!

Little Mac Little Mac 4:06 pm 14 May 21

Beautiful people, you are all much loved, along with your excellent service, food and coffee <3

Valda Sinclair Valda Sinclair 3:46 pm 14 May 21

Great happy friendly service and the best scrambled eggs in Queanbeyan and surrounds. Miss you guys

Jeremy Maher Jeremy Maher 3:00 pm 14 May 21

A very rare find these days with true home cooked food and loving service!!

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