A Greek family legacy lives on at new Mowbray cafe

The Parolis family celebrated what would have been Elli Parolis’s 106th birthday on Saturday at Yiayia’s Table. From left, are Emilia Parolis, Lexi Parolis, Christina Parolis, Dimitri Parolis, Kathy Parolis, Harry Parolis, Penny Parolis and Myra Parolis.
Elli Parolis died at the age of 96.
Yiayia’s Table in Durban Road, Mowbray

Yiayia’s Table, a Greek cafe that opened in Mowbray in May, is a place of homage to Elli Parolis, the matriarch of a family that has been part of the Mowbray community for several generations.

Ms Parolis was 96 when she died in 2012. She lived in Mowbray most of her life after moving to Cape Town for an arranged marriage with Jimmy Parolis, who immigrated from the Greek island of Lesbos in 1937.

The couple settled in Mowbray and had three children. Elli and Jimmy’s lineage has continued with five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

It was during the first lockdown that the Parolis family came up with the idea of opening Yiayia’s Table in honour of Elli. Yiayia is Greek for grandmother.

The family run a lingerie business, but they have redesigned their premises to also accommodate the cafe.

“Apart from the fact that we had to restrategise our business during the pandemic, we realised the importance of creating something that provides more comfort and love within our business. This is when a bakery cafe was decided upon,” says Dimitri Parolis, Elli’s grandson, who manages the cafe.

His grandmother was the glue that held the family together, and her home was a place of warmth, he says. It’s that feeling the family hopes to recreate at the cafe, selling some of the same baked goods Elli made for her family and visitors.

“The recipes at the bakery are based on our grandmother’s recipes, and I had to teach myself how to recreate these recipes, which was the hardest part for me,” says Dimitri. “I then had to teach our staff to make the same recipes before we could finally open up.”

Yiayia’s Table is where Elli and Jimmy used to run a butchery and tea room. Jimmy died in 1971.

“They shared a real love story, despite it being an arranged marriage,” says Lexi Parolis, the couple’s granddaughter. “My grandfather adored her and she was a feisty woman.”

Her grandmother, she recalls, was always baking. “She would show us how to make shapes when we were children, which was fun for us. We spent a lot of time with her.

“We very much believe in carrying on a legacy,” she says. “Mowbray was where our grandparents built their life; we therefore feel their presence with us at all times when it comes to the decisions and the food we make.”