Ken Little sells fruit and vegetables from his Munster Street shop, stacked with countless kinds of colourful produce from alfalfa and apples to zucchinis.
Volume is the reason we’re so busy getting in fruit and vegies every day from Sydney and Brisbane markets. We buy a lot locally but can’t get the volume from local producers alone to service all our customers. We have 4,000 retail customers a week coming through the shop and there’s all our wholesale customers too. We have 120 wholesale customers – restaurants, corner stores, here, in Wauchope and around the Hastings. Four blokes come in at 2.30am daily to make up their orders. Country Energy buys boxes and boxes of fruit for their staff to eat.
There’s me, my wife Judy, my brother Ben and sister Jan working in the business; Jan does the payroll. We have 33 staff, 12 full time, the others part-time casual. They range in age from about 15 to 50 or 60.
I’ve been in fruit and vegies more than 35 years, the past 13 at this site. I grew up on a farm at Ben Lomond between Guyra and Glen Innes until I was 10; Mum and Dad retired here in 1960. I started out in fruit and vegies at Woolies Food For Less for six years, then opened my own shop in Hay Street, opposite the Court House at the time. I was there for 15 months and then moved to the Colonial Arcade and later on to Peachtree Arcade.
I come in at 7.30 to make sure everything’s right, see if I need to buy extra and talk to my blokes at the markets. Growers who want to sell to me come and see me, I look at the stuff and make my mind up, a quick yes or no. Quality and fresh is my yardstick, that’s what I look for. I’m not saying we don’t have specials, we do; but I don’t judge on price. It’s got to be quality or we don’t buy it. Every Tuesday it’s organics day when we sell fresh organic fruit and vegetables, some from around here, some from southern Queensland. It’s good; it’s worth doing.
There’ve been a couple of tough times over the years. We got burned down on the 8th of October 2005 – totalled. For six months while we were rebuilding we operated out of the top shed here and the supermarket next door, all over summer time; it was pretty hard, a logistical nightmare. We kept our staff on, used the supermarket cool room and had a couple of shipping containers outside; they rebuilt around us. At Peachtree we lost 85 per cent of our retail customers overnight when they were building Port Central – parking, chaos: no one could get in for eight or nine months, so we moved here.
I love the fruit and vegie business: the change of seasons and the customers, love dealing with people. If I’m in the shop they ask me if there’s something special they want. I say hello, I’m friendly; they need to know they’re your customers, to be recognised; it’s a personal business.
People don’t realise how many varieties there are; there’s more varieties of plum than any other fruit – I don’t know how many, more than 20 probably. Peaches and nectarines too: a different variety of peach every week till the season finishes. Then there’s all the different fancy lettuces. There’s 12 or more kinds of apples we buy, five different avocados, all the berries – boysenberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries … it just goes on. I sell 250 bunches of coriander a week, it’s our biggest seller in herbs. One of the most unusual items is Buddha Hands, a citrus dessert fruit from Queensland. There’s a lot of pumpkins around now, locally grown at Kendall and Rawdon Island. We have Ricardoes Tomatoes, a man at Tele Point grows things like broccoli, beans, corn, caulies and cabbage for me and we get mushrooms from Forster.
We do 100 or more fruit trays a week for raffles and always give them extra value, or donate them for special causes like cancer charities. Pam Hall was our longest employee – 20 years. There’s kids we’ve employed as teenage casuals, we encourage them and we’re thrilled when they get trade apprenticeships or go on to uni; a lot are in their 30s now, with kids of their own.
No, I’m not a vegetarian. My own favourite fruits? Cherries and Delicious or Gala apples; I eat three or four apples a day.