In this article, Greek City Times raises their glass with the business magnate Theo Chambers to discuss his Greek heritage, family connections, and burgeoning success in finance, life and love. Yasou!
Let’s start at the beginning. Like many Greeks, your Grandparents immigrated from Kitheria to Sydney for a better life. Can you share this journey with us?
My Papou, Theo Karedis, migrated when he was 16 years old. He
originally lived in the country, working in the fields, as he was a farmer from Kythera. He lived in the middle of the island, in a small
village called, Dokana, with only three or four other families. He opened up a milk bar when he was 19 years old. He made it very successful and was famous for the hamburgers and milkshakes.
He then turned the milk bar into a supermarket, with a small section of the store selling wine and liquor. My Papou soon realised that wine and liquor were his best-selling products, so he turned the supermarket into a liquor store, Theo’s Liquor.
My father was a mechanic when he met my mother, Patricia Karedis. After they married, my Papou convinced my father to sell his garage and open liquor stores. After working hard for 10-15 years, they had over 50 stores across NSW and were the largest independent liquor retailer in Australia.
My Papou sold his stores to Coles, whilst my father continues to operate as “Chambers Cellars”. Both of them are still working today.
What does your Greek Heritage mean to you?
I am very proud of my Greek heritage. I cherish it dearly and want to ensure they will also be proud of their Greek heritage when I have children. It’s an honour to share such long-standing traditions and history with the people in my life.
I love showing friends around my home island of Kythera and telling them the stories my family told me whilst driving around. Both sides of my family are from the island, so I feel so connected to the place, with a nostalgic feeling of my family’s history throughout the villages on the island.
I also grew up spending most summer holidays in Kythera with my grandparents and extended family, so I’ve got my own childhood memories of living the old way of life, farming, fishing and living off the land and sea.
I used to stay with my grandparents in the village of Potamo in their old house that’s passed through the family for generations, surrounded by their veggie garden, fruit trees and animals. They kept their animals ̶̶ the donkey, pigeons, rabbits and chickens ̶̶ in an old ruin next to their house. I loved waking up every day and running into the ruin to look for eggs.
My uncle was a local fisherman with one of those traditional timber boats, and when I stayed in Agia Pelagia, I’d go fishing almost every morning and every night with him as a young kid. Sometimes on the boat, we slept squished up by the engine overnight below the deck.
My job was to watch the nets come up and grab any octopus-eating fish caught in the nets and quickly throw them on the deck before they jumped off.
These memories and stories remind me of how my ancestors lived for centuries on Kythera and can help put things into perceptive when we get caught up in the rat race of the Western world, such as working long hours and living a much faster lifestyle.
Growing up with such strong figures in your life like your grandfather and father, how do you think this has influenced both your professional and personal life?
I’m lucky to have multiple business role models in my life ̶, being my father and grandfather, from separate sides of the family, but both Kytherian ̶ each with their own great values. It took some maturity
later in life, after finishing school to truly appreciate the sacrifice both generations of my family made for future generations.
My father, in particular, migrated from Kythera at 12, leaving his parents behind, who he didn’t see again for ten years until he was 22. He left Athens on a boat to Sydney, which took six weeks, and he went to live with uncles and aunties, whom he’d never even met before. He came from such poverty, making shoes out of car tires, and when he migrated, he was driven to work hard, saving every dollar.
He is the most selfless father I’ve ever met, doing everything he can for my mother, brother and me. In business, people instantly sense his good nature and want to work with him. I strive to be the same husband and father he has been to us as a family.
My Papou Theo, on my mother’s side, is a business tycoon and whilst he is very similar to my father, he also has a different approach towards business.
Definitely, more old school and traditional in his views with a more aggressive approach, being a risk taker and dominator in his game. He wouldn’t ever let someone get away with doing something wrong by him, and he always believed he was the best at what he did, which made him the best at everything he did. He was a hard negotiator and a game changer for his industry whilst still being a family man and doing his best to bring the family together by hosting various family occasions and holidays.
My Papou was much more indulgent than my father, buying himself luxury brand-new cars from the moment he could afford to, whilst my father bought his first brand-new car at 68 years old.
He bought himself a Toyota Hiace van, much more of a true Kytherian. Although the two of them always still acted frugal and watched their bottom dollar, they’d both always tell me off for putting too much firewood in the fireplace, saying it’s a waste, or would go around the house switching off lights and questioning who’s upstairs or outside whilst doing so.
What does the Greek Community in Sydney mean to you?
I grew up in the North Shore, which sadly doesn’t have as many Greeks as other parts of Sydney. However, I was very close to the Greeks in the area, such as my fellow local Greek friend and Koumbaro, Pete Manettas.
He also shares the same love for his Greek ancestry. I did Greek lessons at his Yiayia’s house as a teenager and have invited him and his family to Kythera multiple times over the years.
When I meet a fellow Greek, there is always an instant bond in my personal and professional life. Professionally I feel there is a sense of trust when doing business with another Greek, as if it’s assumed each party will go above and beyond to look after one other.
Let’s talk romance. You’ve found love with successful entrepreneur Natasha Oakley. As an all-around Aussie bombshell, how has Tash integrated with Greek culture?
Tash has truly embraced Greek culture. She makes spanakopitas in considerable batches to give to our family and serve to our friends. She’s been to Kythera multiple times and loves Greek dancing in the square and eating at family-run restaurants.
In Kythera, she loves all the simple village food like fava, vlita, filio’s domades, zuchinni balls and the Greek salads, which you simply cannot recreate in Australia as the Kytherian tomatoes, rusks, feta and olive oil is unbeatable. She’s also adopted various cute Greek words like ‘agapi mou’ and ‘baby mou’, which is now our nickname amongst our friends, being the ‘baby mou’s’.
That’s great that Tash has a particular affinity for Greek cooking! What do you two like to cook?
Spanikopita, lamb in many different ways, fava, gemista and lots of tzatziki. She also helps me with my souvla when I make gyros and souvlaki. To be honest, we sort of have a spanikopita competition sometimes on weekends, she does a batch, and I do a batch, and we see who is better. We’re making five to ten at once, so you can imagine ̶ the spinach is everywhere!
Early this year, we got engaged in Italy. I presented her with the ring while on bended knee, and she said, "YES"
On that lighthearted note, let’s do a quick-fire round of ten questions:
1. Who is your favourite Greek Artist?
2. What song would we catch you singing to in the car?
‘Soma Mou’. All of my Australian friends I’ve invited to Kythera over the years know most of the words to that song!
They sing along without knowing what each word even means. I’ve also taught them all how to dance the Zeibekiko.
3. Which Greek God would you be?
Poseidon, because I’m a water sign and love the sea and the ocean.
4. How do you have your coffee?
Black coffee with a dash of almond milk.
5. What is the ultimate Greek meal you will never get sick of in Greece?
My Yiayias used to make the best Gemista with minced meat inside. I could eat it every day, especially with the mix of different
vegetables they used like: tomatoes, capsicum, zucchini and eggplant.
My Yiayia in Kythera would always use the local herbs, giving such a unique flavour.
6. What is your Favourite Greek restaurant?
Nothing beats the local tavernas in Kythera. Each one is family-run with its homegrown produce, including its homemade house wines, served by the jug. I have two favourite restaurants: ‘Skandia’ near Avlemonas, and ‘Filio’ near Lavadi. My favourite food in these restaurants is traditional local meals, like a rooster,
rabbit, fava and youvetsi.
In Sydney, my favourite would be ‘Apollo’, which serves a more modern Greek cuisine.
7. What is Your favourite holiday destination?
Kythera, as I could happily spend weeks or months there. I can only spend a week or so in most places in the world, but Kythera? I could stay all summer.
It has been my dream ever since I was a young boy to play with my Papou and Yiayia on the island, in their fields. That is when I decided that one day, I would spend two to three months a year in Greece.
I planned to start in spring so that I could plant my own veggie patch and I could have all my animals in my backyard so that I could live off the land as they’ve done for centuries. I had my 30th birthday in Kythera and managed to get 55 people to come for one week.
8. What’s your life motto?
You only live once, so make every moment count. Concerning business, my Papou Theo taught me the power of continuity. His advice was: “you’ll only be successful at something if you continue to pursue it for an extended period of time”. Giving up was never an option. My Papou told me that the road ahead will always have its ups and downs, but… sticking with it will be the key to success.
9. If you could sum up the best piece of advice a Greek has ever given you:
“Continuity - you’ll only be truly successful at something if you continue to pursue a specific business, industry or project for a long period of time.”
10. Do you owe much of your current success with your company, Shore Financial, to this influence?
Yes, definitely. I learned my work ethic and business values from my father and my Papou. As they are the role models in my life, I continue to learn from them. The constant, regular, small comments and stories they would tell me over my lifetime have resulted in a substantial amount of learning.
Back when I was studying as an undergraduate in business at university, I’d laugh and tell people that I actually got my doctorate in business at the family dinner table.
So what’s next for Theo Chambers?
I still have an entire career ahead of me. I’m young and feel there’s still much more growth in Shore Financial. I genuinely enjoy work ̶ it fulfils me, and I love the ongoing challenge.
As the team grows, work becomes more enjoyable as more people share the vision and become passionate about the brand while having more senior staff help with overall management.
I also have a passion for investing and developing property, which I hope to explore further.
Whichever ventures Theo Chambers decides to touch in 2023, Greek City Times predicts a Midas-esque new year, foreshadowing all things turning gold for the young mogul.