7 February 2023

Not your average Jo: Il Corso waitress on 22 years of loyal service

| Oliver Jacques
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woman in cafe

Jo Thornton has been at Il Corso for 22 years. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Talk to any cafe owner along Griffith’s Banna Avenue and their biggest gripe usually centres on staffing.

“We just can’t recruit” and “We train them and they leave” are the two most common complaints.

That’s what makes Jo Thornton, one of the town’s longest-serving waitresses, such a prized asset for enduring Italian eatery Il Corso Cafe.

“I’ve been working in this job for 22 years. I’ve served babies who I later served as adults,” she said.

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Ms Thornton’s co-workers know her for having the patience of a saint, greeting every single customer with a wide smile and being able to calm down the grumpiest of diners.

In her time, she’s seen plenty of famous faces, like comedian Carl Barron, the original Wiggles, country music star Kasey Chambers, singer Guy Sebastian and celebrity gardener Costa Georgiadis.

“Carl Barron was a real character, as people would know,” Ms Thornton said.

“I’ve also worked work with hundreds of people, from all over the world. I’ve worked with a lot of backpackers, I make friends with them and then they leave, which is a bit sad. But some stay … Carly and Amanda are my rock. I reckon I’ve worked with Carly [Di Stefano] for at least five years, and we have become really good friends. We are like one big family. I probably see them more than my family.”

Ms Thornton was born in Leeton, moving to Griffith when she was eight years old.

“I’ve been here ever since, because I love this town. I have one son, Kurt, who is a stonemason, and two beautiful granddaughters. Macy is four and Willow is seven months. They live in Bendigo.”

Ms Thornton’s first job out of school was as a barmaid for the Jondaryan Club, an iconic bowling club in North Griffith, which closed down and is now the site of a Woolworths grocery store [commonly referred to as Little Woolies].

“I worked at the Jondaryan for 10 years, they looked after me really well. I was then at the Victoria Hotel and the Area Hotel before I got into waitressing at Il Corso.

Bowling green

The iconic Jondaryan Club, which was Ms Thornton’s first employer. Photo: Western Riverina Libraries.

“When I started, it was a smaller restaurant, it was located where Little Italy [an Italian restaurant] is now. The main street has changed so much in my time. A lot of restaurants have shut, but some have thrived.”

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In more than two decades, Ms Thornton has had her share of hair-raising times.

“There was one time when the cake machine caught on fire. I also got six stitches when I went to catch a glass on the table and it cracked.

“We’ve had some difficult days when it’s just flat out. COVID was tough. We stayed open and just did takeaways through the window. All the staff were off, it was just me and another lady who did the takeaway through the window.

“But overall, I’ve really enjoyed it. I love interacting with people. I like meeting people from out of town. My boss [Joseph Gioia] is the best.”

two people outside restaurant

Joseph Gioia and Jo Thornton. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Mr Gioia, Il Corso’s owner, said: “I would hope I’m the best, I’m the only boss she’s had in 20 years.”

Il Corso, which serves pizza, pasta and other authentic Italian dishes, is at 140 Banna Ave and is open seven days a week. Check out their website for opening hours.

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