Food and hospitality have long been a part of Ankit’s life, even before he opened up his spice shop, Fusion Spices in March this year. Back in Jaipur in Northern India, he worked in his father’s business, supplying hospitality uniforms to airlines and hotels. After completing a Masters in Accounting and Finance in Australia, Ankit eventually set up two eateries – Spice Cube in the Woodgrove food court and another restaurant in the CBD – along with two separate spice shops. “I enjoy eating and like to feed people,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve always had a passion for food. With my ethnic background and Indian culture, I wanted to get into this business.”
With four businesses under his belt and another restaurant on the way, Ankit doesn’t get much time to sit down, let alone cook for himself (though he tells us he used to be a “very good cook”). His favourite meal is chicken lababdar, a flavoursome Mughlai dish with a rich curry sauce involving numerous spices.
Ankit loves the diversity of the Melton community and his customers’ openness to trying new products. “It’s good because you get to interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds,” he says. “A lot of the products we stock are used across various nationalities’ cooking. I like telling people about our products and seeing them love it and come back with good feedback.”
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Stop by Quality Cuts Halal Meats and you’ll find a fresh-faced Sarah behind the counter, ready to recommend the best cuts on offer. Sarah began managing the store only a month ago, having previously worked in various butcher shops over five years. “Customers are very friendly here in Melton, and we all work as a team in the shop so I’m hoping to stay here for many years,” she says.
Aside from fresh chicken, lamb and beef, Quality Cuts Halal Meats also stocks a range of Turkish and Lebanese specialty products including yoghurt, dips, preserved and canned goods, and
drinks. According to Sarah, the store’s number one selling specialty product is sucuk (pronounced “su-joock”) – a spicy and aromatic beef sausage eaten throughout Turkey as well as in parts of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkans. “It’s similar to a sausage but way better,” Sarah says with a laugh. “You can put it on pizzas, cook it for breakfast with an egg, or eat it in any meal. It’s very popular.”
Elsewhere in store, you’ll find freshly baked Turkish bread along with various ‘dolma’, including stuffed eggplant and vine leaves, both imported from Turkey. Stuffed with rice, nuts and a mixture of spices, the eggplant and vine leaves come in small, bite-sized portions – making them the perfect picnic snack or accompaniment to fresh bread.
Asked about her favourite meal, Sarah nominates kofte (also known as kafta) – a Turkish and Lebanese minced meat skewer made from a simple combination of minced meat, parsley, onion, salt and pepper. Quality Cuts sells a variety of pre-seasoned kofte meats which are ready to cook. “You can pan fry it, do it on skewers over the barbecue or make burgers out of it. However you want it, you can do it,” Sarah says. “My family cook it on the barbecue and have it with some dips and salad on the side. Delicious.”
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Some of Leo DeMaria’s earliest fresh food memories involve driving a forklift around a warehouse at the tender age of 10, “Definitely something you wouldn’t get away with today,” he says with a laugh. Leo grew up in the fruit and veg business – his father started a banana wholesaling business back in the late 1960s, eventually shifting to fresh food retailing and launching DeMaria’s Fruit and Veg seven years ago.
The family still works together today, getting up each morning (weekends included), to visit the wholesale markets when most of us are deep asleep. “We go to the wholesale market in Epping at about 2 o-clock every morning,” Leo explains. “We get up, go talk to the growers and wholesalers and start bargaining on what we want.”
Along with a keen understanding of what people like to buy, at the heart of the DeMaria’s business is a desire to source the best quality, locally grown products at the lowest prices. Working with his father and brother over the years, Leo has learned that providing the best customer service is indispensable. Being on hand to recommend produce to shoppers on a daily basis is key. Admittedly, being up at 2am, setting up shop and closing at 6pm each day can be rough. But for Leo, “it’s all worth it in the end” when he gets to see satisfied customers and helps people to eat good, healthy food.
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Every day at 4.30am on the dot, Melbourne’s wholesale fish market opens its doors to eager buyers from across the state. Among the crowd is the team from Woodgrove’s specialty fish shop, Fishmaster – who swoop in to wrangle the best deals on the day’s freshest catch.
This daily pre-dawn ritual keeps Fishmaster stocked with the freshest of everything – from tuna and flathead, to prawns, shellfish and more. After careful selection and a little negotiation, the haul is then transported back to the store where Lim, the store manager, gets busy cleaning, gutting and filleting ready for the day’s customers.
Managing Fishmaster is a welcome change of pace for Lim who, not too long ago, was working tables in a bustling Malaysian restaurant. “You can learn more here than at a restaurant,” Lim says. “When I started, it was very difficult because I didn’t know how to use a knife or clean a fish. It was hard learning but after two weeks, I got it. And so far, so good.”
Salmon and tuna are the consistent best sellers at Fishmaster, but with Melton’s diverse mix of shoppers, Lim makes sure to order in plenty of options. “We need to get a lot of different fish to meet our customers’ needs,” Lim explains, noting that customers from New Zealand like their mullet and NZ snapper, while those from Asian cultures often go for carp and silver trevally.
Ask Lim for tips and Lim will happily point out a dozen quick and easy ways to serve up a tasty fish dinner. “You can pan-fry salmon; you can steam a whole white fish Asian style with ginger and scallions; or simply grill or barbecue fish with lemon” Lim offers. Just don’t ask Lim to do the cooking. “I’m not actually very good at cooking, so it’s usually me buying the fish and someone else cooking.”
With an assortment of fresh breads, classic Australian bakery fare and Vietnamese specialties, Woodgrove Bakery is a cross-cultural medley that reflects Melton’s diverse community.
Owner Dung grew up baking cakes for her family in Vietnam – a routine that inspired her to continue baking as an adult. When she came to Australia nearly 12 years ago, she never imagined that she’d one day own her own business. She worked at other bakeries first, picking up techniques and recipes before arming herself with a can-do spirit and taking on Woodgrove Bakery.
These days, Dung’s husband bakes the bread, while Dung is in charge of making the meat pies, sausage rolls, sweet tarts and slices. “People really love the pies,” she says. “In wintertime we make them daily because they sell so fast.”
Dung and her team like to keep the offering varied. In addition to the bakery staples, there’s Turkish borek (her husband makes the pastry while she creates the filling), Vietnamese banh mi (roast pork rolls) and Vietnamese coffee, made with addictively sweet condensed milk. Dung’s favourite place to be is up at the front counter. “People here are so friendly,” she says. “The community in Melton is great.”
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Jason’s memories of being in a deli date back to his childhood, when he and his cousin would rush around his uncle’s deli, helping themselves to sliced hams and packets of biscuits. A hint of this deli magic stayed with him into adulthood, and in 2016 he bought Woodgrove Deli after years of working in the food industry.
Woodgrove Deli stocks a huge range of delicacies from all over Europe, but it’s Jason’s selection of Maltese products (from biscuits to sausages and cheeses) in particular that draws in Melton’s big Maltese community. Elsewhere on the shelves you’ll find fresh pastas, dips, smallgoods, cheese, coffees, cakes and snacks, while parmesan and pecorino are grated fresh in store.
Much of what you’ll find are products that Jason has grown up with – leaving him well placed to share his knowledge and recommend what goes best with what. One of his personal favourites is the Portuguese chicken, a chicken breast with a spicy coating which he says is perfect for sandwiches.
For Jason, the highlight of running the deli is getting to know his customers. “I really like that we get to know people by their first name,” he says. “If people come back more than once, we know we’re doing something right.”
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‘Work mum’ is a title that Lana, manager at Bakers Delight, wears with pride. Working with a predominantly young team, Lana loves encouraging and guiding her staff. “You get to show them customer services skills and give them an experience that will take them further in their life and career,” she says. “I can’t help it; the mum comes out of me.”
Lana has been at Bakers Delight for a little over a year but has almost always worked in or around the food industry, previously running a pizza shop. If she’s in a busy, social atmosphere, she’s happy. One of her favourite parts of the job is the customer interaction. “You really do get to have a personal relationship with customers,” she says. “You get to share experiences with each other.”
Everything at Bakers Delight is baked fresh daily – from the bread down to sweet pastries and buns. Bakers start the process at 1.30am and the last baker is out the door at 12 noon. Whatever isn’t sold on the day is given to local farmers.
As a diabetic, Lana is a fan of Bakers Delight’s Hi-Fibre Low-GI white bread loaf. “I give it to my kids too and they don’t notice the difference because it’s still white bread.” Every so often, she’ll also indulge in her sweet tooth favourites: custard scrolls, and the raspberry and passionfruit scones – “a naughty temptation, but so great with vanilla ice cream”.
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