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By Peter Stevenson MEMBERS of Volunteer Doctors Cyprus have treated around 350 people at their free clinic in Nicosia since it opened three months ago, while two more, one in Paphos and one in Polis are due to open today. Limassol also has a free clinic, which was opened only last month, and plans have been drawn ...
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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Living by Eleni Antoniou ]

Living by Eleni Antoniou

All in the family Ice cream makers

The ice-cream men

For 80 years one family has ruled supreme on Ledra Street, offering coffee and then their own brand of ice cream

In 1925, Heraklis Demetriou left his village, Kalepia in Paphos, in search of his fortune. Barefoot and in a pair of torn, traditional trousers, he made his way to Nicosia where, after many years of hard work, his name would become synonymous with one of the island’s most popular brands of ice-cream. He is the man behind Cyprus’ first ice-cream production industry, Heraklis. Today, fifteen years after his death, son-in-law, daughter and three grandsons are working just as hard to keep the name alive.

During the late 1950s, 60s and 70s, Heraklis was so popular, cars would wait patiently in line from Nicosia’s Eleftheria Square all the way to the end of Ledra Street, where the shop operated and does so until this day, to get a scoop of the delicious ice cream. However tasty Heraklis’ ice creams were though, it was the main man’s friendly face and the excellent, welcoming service that had people coming back for more, years on end.

Heraklis first opened shop at the age of 17 although he did not begin selling ice-cream until much later. He merely made coffees, catering to the needs of the various shops and offices located on Ledra Street. Two years later, he moved opposite into the current shop, now operated by his son-in-law, Costas Vrontis. “Heraklis was a lively character, special, gentle and friendly. He also loved his country and was imprisoned for 40 days when he managed to get past police officers in 1931 during the uprising against the British and pull down their flag,” says Costas. Years later, in World War II, Nicosia was evacuated and the demand for Heraklis’ services was slow. Unable to pay the rent, he handed the keys to his neighbour, asking him to give them back to the owner and left. As the war approached the end and life started to get back to normal, Heraklis returned, the neighbour gave him the keys, which he had kept all along, and the future ice-cream maker was back in business… this time actually selling ice-cream. “Initially, he would buy and sell ice-cream but in 1943, after a disagreement with the supplier, he decided to make his own,” says Costas. “He picked up a recipe printed in a magazine based in Athens and took it to a confectioner friend who agreed to help him, for the price of 10 pounds.” Heraklis observed the method of ice-cream making and began experimenting until he got it right.

Heraklis ice-creams were officially on the market and popularity was increasing. However, these were the days of the EOKA liberation campaign and many participating in the fight began visiting Heraklis’ caf? where they also took the time to organise and discuss. “The British obviously knew something was going on and would frequently raid the caf? to check on Heraklis,” explains Costas. “When a bomb was placed in a club further down the street, fingers pointed to Heraklis, who was soon arrested again and the caf? was wax-sealed.” However, no evidence was found to keep the ice-cream maker imprisoned and he was released to continue serving ice-cream.

As business flourished, Heraklis and his wife, Evangelia, who he married when he was 40, realised workers were needed to help with the production but it was important to place family members in these trusted positions. “The first production unit was a small flat located near the store on Ledra Street, which was operated by his wife and two sisters until 1962,” recalls Costas.

“Having adopted a child, his sister’s daughter, he decided it was time to invest and so he bought the shop and a house in Ayios Andreas.”

Until 1990, production took place in two rooms of the house and machines were brought in as soon as they were available. In 1991, Costas purchased a factory in the industrial area of Engomi and production continues there. However, before equipment was brought in to the picture, Heraklis would use a copper bowl into which sugar, starch and eggs were poured and mixed thoroughly. The mixture would then be transferred to smaller containers, plunged in water and warm milk would be added. It was then stirred well until it took the form of cream and was then immediately placed in special refrigerators. Although the preparation technique has changed, the recipe has stayed the same. “Of course with the vast variety of fruits and the need for low-fat ice cream, we have modified some of our recipes and expanded on the fruit part but our products remain colouring and conservative free.”

In 1988, Costas Vrontis handed in his resignation at the bank where he had worked since 1968. “It was a tough decision but when Heraklis suffered a stroke I wanted to help and this was the only way I knew how.” Besides, his eldest son, Heraklis’ namesake, was tutored from a very young age by his grandfather and by the age of 11, he was ready to run shop on his own, a step in the right direction as the business was always meant to be a family one. “My wife worked here since she was eight. They would put boxes under her feet so she could reach the sink and help out,” says Costas, “so we all knew that this is where our future lies.” And because of this, a great deal of money and time went into renovating and expanding the caf?, adding various dishes and coffees, especially since the ice-cream was only generating £60 a day until eight years ago! “We realised that as much as we love the business and what Heraklis set up, imports and changes in the way of life didn’t allow us to limit ourselves to ice-cream alone.” Since then, Heraklis has taken off. It’s a regular meeting point on Ledra Street and on a Sunday afternoon six people struggle to meet the passing public’s demand for an ice cream. “Kids are an important factor too at Heraklis caf?, especially since we have the indoor garden packed with games, which children and their parents can enjoy for free. Heraklis would be proud!”

Heraklis ice-cream is situated at the end of Ledra Street and ice-cream packaging is sold at kiosks and supermarkets

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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