Zac Simos was a true entrepreneur. His brother George, who had joined him, was a master confectioner and Paragon chocolates quickly gained a fine reputation, which they have kept to this day. In the mid-1920s, the chocolates were manufactured in the basement of Soper Chambers on the other side of Katoomba Street (nos. 118-120) in a white-enamelled chamber of vaunted hygiene. This building had been erected in 1921 by Soper Brothers, the real estate agents, and Simos had at the same time purchased Soper’s previous premises next door and continued to lease them out as a commercial investment.
Simos used all modern means to promote the Paragon and its home-made products. Packaging was important and the Paragon style of box, still in use today, was already distinctive. Moreover, if one bought a pound of chocolates in 1925, one got half a pound of Peanut Brittle free. Made on the premises, the Peanut Brittle was advertised as ‘a dandy candy’. In 1926 he was offering personalised Easter eggs, with the child’s name impressed on the chocolate: the chocolate egg displayed in the Paragon window was claimed to be the largest in all of New South Wales.
Upstairs was transformed at this time. The front section was fitted out for Zac Simos’ own bachelor accommodation. There were three industrial sections to the rear. The machinery was largely imported: just like the soda fountain equipment downstairs, the upstairs equipment was strikingly cosmopolitan. The Simos family, headed by Zac, Mary and George the confectioner, took pains to acquire the best equipment available from Europe, America and Australia.
Upstairs at the Paragon today is a revelation. Few people have been aware that there was anything of heritage value upstairs. The survival of so much evidence of the Simos’ bakery and chocolaterie adds substantially to the already commanding heritage significance of the building.
The earlier chocolate-making machinery and some of the baking equipment was unfortunately dismantled and stored in a short corridor upstairs about ten years ago, but we know what much of it looked like when it was in situ.
In 2013 a group from the committee of the Australian Society for the History of Engineering and Technology (ASHET) examined all this equipment. The assessment of its significance is still a work in progress, but it is clear that the rarity of such a collection of inter-war equipment in Australia gives the Paragon material impelling interest.
Of the three industrial sections on the upper storey, one was for refrigeration, where the ice-cream was made and stored. A huge, state-of-the-art refrigerator was connected to the soda fountain to ensure that drinks were icy cool.
The second section was the new bakehouse, with tiled walls and floor. A new dumb waiter was installed to bring the cakes downstairs. This dumb waiter survives impressively intact although Council regulations prohibit its use. Critical pieces of baking machinery remain in store upstairs. Star Machinery of Alexandria and Small and Shattell Pty Ltd, Melbourne-based engineers who advertised on their notepaper in the 1930s that ‘Our specialities are bread & pastrycooks, biscuit & confectionary machinery’, are among the few Australian firms patronised.
A major French/Swiss firm, Kustner Frères of Lyon, had been making baking equipment, among many food products for the world for fifty years since the 1880s. There is also another piece of equipment from this firm when it was located not in Lyons but in Paris and Aubervilliers. Kustner Frères, with their administrative headquarters in Geneva and Paris, published extensive catalogues between the wars promoting their Matériel chocolat. These were no doubt familiar to Zac Simos and his brother who transferred the Paragon chocolate factory from the basement of Soper Chambers, introducing a state- of-the-art forced-gas boiler and“ … a draught of cold, dry air for cooling purposes”.
The original marble table-top in the chocolaterie survives in situ and shows the regular cuts made by the Paragon’s chocolate-makers over decades of use. The custom-made and very practical tray-compartments under the benches are still usable. The principal confectionery equipment was made by the leading British firm of BCH. What became the major modern firm called fashionably BCH had originated in the mid-nineteenth century in the separate work of William Brierley, Luke Collier and Thomas Hartley in the mid-nineteenth century.
Luke Collier was a specialist confectioner from 1835; Brierley was a brass-founder, specialising in confectionery work from 1844 onwards; and Hartley was also an independent specialist in chocolate- making. The Brierley and Collier firms amalgamated in 1913 and this firm joined forces with the Hartley family in 1924. Operating out of Rochdale in England the Brierley-Collier-Hartley firm went from strength to strength and finally became BCH. Simos seems to have ordered this equipment from the firm in the decade after its final amalgamation of 1924.
Jack, I 2014 ‘The Paragon Café, Katoomba’, Blue Mountains History Journal vol. 5 pp.1-12