There’s a sign outside Theo’s Cecinas that says “since 1931”. We’re sitting with Theo’s owner Cristian Garcia and ask if they’ve really been selling traditional Chilean meats for 87 years.
The story starts in 1931 when Cristian Garcia’s grandfather moved to the capital of Chile, Santiago, to support the family. He got a job at the famous butchery La Chilenta. Garcia’s dad, Teodoro, grew up in that shop and at 14 years of age he started working. Three years later he gets his own butcher store, the first Theo’s Cecinas.
When the family came to Sydney in 1976, butchery was all Teodoro knew, but there were no South American-style butcheries here, so he found other employment. “He worked at factories, a leather-tanning factory – whatever he could find,” says Garcia.
That didn’t stop him from continuing the trade, though. “Me and my brother would take a day off school to go to an abattoir in Homebush and buy a pig. Dad would break it down, make chorizo, marinated pork belly, blood pudding and traditional ham. This was all made in our flat in Matraville.”
They gave the sausages and marinated meats to friends and hosted barbeques at home. Eventually, Teodoro thought there was a market for these products so the family got a lease on Crown Street in Surry Hills and opened Theo’s Cecinas Sydney.
It was not what they expected. Even though Teodoro had employed his wife and two sons to help him, it was gruelling. There weren’t enough Chileans to support the business and many people considered the meats a mystery. For eight years, no one took a week off work. “It was tough; we worked hard. There were some days we didn't have any takings,” he says. “We were struggling to survive.”
It’s odd hearing Garcia say that now. When Broadsheet visits the now Fairfield-based shop, on a Friday morning, there’s a steady stream of customers, many Chilean. Most greet Garcia and they all seem to have a good knowledge of what’s on offer.
What most people come for is the handmade sausages, chorizo, longaniza (a longer cured chorizo) and blood sausage. Others want the chilli-garlic marinated pork belly, patita rellena (like Chilean mortadella), or just a cut of beef ribs. Some are there for the Chilean groceries such as dried seaweed, indigenous spice mix or dried peaches, while others seem to be there for the chats. “We've changed a lot but what makes it easy is that we don't have to do anything new. We just keep it authentic. Everything is about honouring my dad’s name,” he says.
205 Hamilton Road, Fairfield
(02) 9726 0673
Tue to Fri 8am–6pm
Sat & Sun 8am–4pm
This is another edition of Broadsheet's Local Knowledge weekly series, where Nick Jordan explores the eateries at the heart of Sydney's different cultural communities. Read more here.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on August 22, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.