I thought about it recently and if there is a phenomenon that I have missed since my childhood, it is the unexpected drop-in.
Throughout my younger years, there was more than often a mysterious knock at the door in the early evening. From my vantage point on the sofa, I gazed down the hall toward the glass front doors, trying to decipher the dark figures through the leaded windows.
Someone would answer it, a joyful greeting would go up and the mystery of who tonight’s guests were revealed.
What would follow was a careful and well-practiced tradition of lodging.
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My cultural background is Greek and we (of course) have a word for this practice – we call it philoxenia, which roughly translates to “love of strangers”. It is not a practice reserved for those we know and relate to, but much deeper than that.
Being a good host and exhibiting philoxenia is a source of pride and even more family honor. That’s why if you meet a Greek for the first time, you will often be invited for a coffee and you won’t leave without a bag of lemons or homemade cookies under your arm.
When I think about what prompted my family and I to open Two Franks, I think back to those foundational years spent watching my parents and grandparents host in their home.
It was a harmonious and well-rehearsed dance. Coats and bags would be taken and hung with care as our guests were led down the hall to the living room. In the meantime, my sister and I would silently do a head count and bring extra chairs from the dining table to make sure everyone had a place to sit. The guests were seated on the comfortable sofas, the adults of the house had the dining chairs, and if there was nowhere else the children would sit on the floor.
Water was immediately brought, followed by mezze or snacks. Without even asking if the diners were hungry, we brought plates of nuts, dried fruits and Greek biscuits. The complexity and effort of the mezze would depend on the length of the visit. There was almost an internal clock where Mom quietly slipped into the kitchen and what seemed like magic, plates of olives, dips, fresh bread, homemade pickled vegetables, sardines coated in olive oil and feta cheese cut into squares with a fork were starting to appear.
If the conversation lingered, the frying pans would come out and a meal would be prepared as we gathered around the table for an impromptu dinner. Wine was always offered and water glasses never remained empty. It always amazed me how as a child I could open the fridge and find nothing I wanted to eat and yet my mother had a way of turning its contents into a hassle-free three-course meal.
As the evening drew to a close, with stories of near and distant relatives shared, coffee and dessert were offered, signaling to all that the evening was drawing to a close. Even so, with appliquéd jackets and bags and plenty of hugs and kisses, the evening continued, sometimes into an extra hour, as the conversation continued down the hall and into the garden.
Once our guests had departed (still beeping a final goodbye as they left), we would begin the cleanup, each of us restored and rejuvenated by the deepening of our family ties, discussing excitedly what had happened all along. throughout the evening.
For whatever reason, whether it’s busier schedules or being less physically connected in a more digitally connected world, the unexpected drop seems to be becoming increasingly rare.
I wonder now if our Australian love for café and restaurant culture is because, when done right, we get the best moments of experiencing our own version of philoxenia.
I like being greeted at a cafe with a warm welcome and a quickly poured glass of water. I love when you get an unexpected snack with your drink at a bar, simply because it’s the hospitable thing to do. I love when the barber takes my coat and bag and neatly hangs them up and when they put a candy-sized chocolate on the side of my latte.
When the doors of our cafe open, there are many things I have learned from my own experiences that I want to contribute to the local community.
A former boss once told me, “Treat your business like your living room – when someone walks into your house, you greet them, show interest in them, and always say goodbye when they leave.”
I hope I can accomplish more than that, and I don’t feel like I’m ticking things off a list.
Instead, I hope Two Franks feels like an extension of the house we grew up in across the street, where we constantly look for opportunities to create surprise and unexpected delight, where guests leave each visit feeling like they’ve just stepped out of yiayia’s kitchen and the conversation still drags on the street.
Spreading joy through food and good conversation – what could be more honorable in life than that?