Small business is the community’s spice of life amidst COVID-19 and flood
With the explosion of interest in home cooking and alternative cuisine, fuelled by countless celebrity chefs, competitions, TV shows, books and online tutorials, the demand for more exotic and unusual ingredients has blossomed as budding home chefs look to elevate their dishes.
TV shows such as MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules are just two examples that have tweaked people’s interest and influenced the way food is prepared and consumed. The good old meat and two veg has slowly but surely seen itself pushed to the side of the plate to be overshadowed by an array of exotic dishes and offerings from all over the world.
One thing this culinary explosion has taught us is the importance of the ingredients that go into each dish. Never under-estimate the role of seasoning and the combination of the right flavours, as luminaries such as Gordon Ramsey and Pete Evans are always so keen to remind us.
Port Macquarie-based Gourmand Ingredients has been in a position to help all such budding home chefs for over a decade now, ensuring one and all that home cooking can be anything but boring with an array of exotic ingredients and goods from all over the world.
Situated in shops 3 and 4 at 39 Short St, Port Macquarie the business was established in 2010 by husband and wife John and Maryline Green. The shop sells specialty ingredients from around Australia and the world and aims to provide the opportunity for local residents to expand and elevate their cooking experience without the need to travel afar to big cities in order to access what can often be difficult-to-find commodities.
Whether people are looking to cook South East Asian, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, African, European or any other exotic cuisine, the shop almost certainly has the right ingredients to stock up on.
Pantry staples such as organic flour, jasmine rice and split peas are also available as are regional Australian, vegetarian, and gluten free products from both small and large producers. A new section providing Filipino specific ingredients is coming soon, offering products such as the delicious adobo sauce.
However, rewind only a few months and the business was placed under serious jeopardy.
It’s been a tough last year or so for pretty much everyone around the world. COVID-19 has impacted everyone, everywhere, causing irreparable damage and heartache to all it has impacted and reshaping the way we view and conduct our daily lives.
Australia has managed the pandemic relatively effectively in comparison to other parts of the world that have found themselves in an awful predicament. Sure, the country is not out of the woods just yet but the robust track record thus far suggests a brighter future ahead is attainable.
It has been possible to shackle the coronavirus to a degree due to decisive policies at government and state levels and thanks to the responsible actions of a diligent Aussie public. However, unfortunately, there are just some things that cannot be controlled and mother nature is arguably at the top of that list.
Australia has experienced increasingly erratic weather patterns of late with devastating bushfires and flooding sadly becoming more and more frequent.
The devastating floods that were experienced in northern New South Wales and south east Queensland during an 11-day spell in March earlier this year were such an example, wreaking havoc and leaving families, communities and businesses in complete disarray.
During that timeframe in March 2021 there was almost 82,000 gigalitres of rainfall in a single week along the NSW mid-north coast, according to data from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). It was officially the wettest week on record in 120 years. To provide some sobering context, this equates to approximately 160 times the amount of water in Sydney Harbour.
Port Macqaurie, of course, did not escape the devastation and Gourmand Ingredients was just one of many local businesses hit hard.
Due to huge customer demand, the shop had been stockpiling goods. Immediately prior to the flood, pallets of frozen goods had arrived in time for Easter. Boxes and boxes of produce and goods lined the floor of the shop’s aisles.
Sadly, when the floods struck all of these goods were rendered useless and had to be discarded, with a total of three skip-bins worth of spoiled stock being thrown out.
“We had flood waters about 48cm deep,” said Maryline. “It wiped out a lot of stock and caused a lot of damage to the shop. The whole place looked like a war zone.”
Thankfully help was at hand in the form of volunteers from the community.
“We had about 15 to 18 people show up offering to help with the clean-up effort,” a grateful Maryline explained.
“People were working 6-8 hour shifts, with squeegees and buckets, on their knees scrubbing the mud and cleaning, removing the damaged goods from the bottom shelves and discarding them into the bins.
“It was very humbling that people offered to do that of their own accord,” Maryline added. “It was extraordinarily humbling.”
With such invaluable help, Gourmand Ingredients were able to reopen within a week, which was quite remarkable given the extent of the damage they and others in the area had experienced.
“It would have been more likely four weeks of closure had it not been for the wonderful help and support from our good samaritans in the community,” Maryline commented proudly.
“Initially when we reopened we had no electricity or power, no fridges, no freezers, no aircon. Without the payment system or cash register we were having to manually use a calculator to tally the goods, we had to literally go to the shelf where the item was to check the price!”
It is that kind of initiative and resilience that has thankfully seen Gourmand Ingredients bounce back so quickly and so well. Within two days of reopening the electricity was back on and they were striving to get the shop back to its former glory.
“The discarded produce cost us a lot financially as did having to replace it with new goods,” Maryline explained.
“We have insurance but I am still unsure how that will work and what, if anything, we will receive. I just hope the insurance company can be sympathetic,” she adds.
In addition to the detrimental impact the floods brought with it, COVID-19 has also caused problems for Maryline, John and their business.
“Prior to COVID, I was running cooking classes in the shop,” Maryline said. “But with everything that was needed to get back on track after the floods, we just do not have the time or resources to do that anymore, unfortunately.
“Also, the social distancing requirements of COVID mean a 1.5 metre distance needs to be kept between people and we just don’t have a premises big enough to cater for that,” she added.
The pandemic has also caused havoc with the food supply chain and the acquisition of certain goods. Ports and the international logistics and shipping industry has been affected, shipping costs have skyrocketed and factories have closed meaning some goods just are not attainable anymore.
“We had a popular biscuit brand that was made in and shipped from England,” Maryline says. “The factory was forced to close for a considerable period of time due to the pandemic and when it reopened they explained it was only focusing on distribution to the domestic UK market.”
‘We provide a service’
However, people understand the situation and have empathy, says Maryline.
“People in the local community understand and appreciate what we bring to them,” she says. “They understand there is more to retail grocery than just the Coles and Woolworths of this world. We provide more than just goods; we provide a service. We offer help and advice to people who are often trying new things for the first time. We can give personal recommendations and tips to help them.
“There has definitely been a move towards more conscious eating,” Maryline states.
“Standards of awareness and responsibility have increased. Many people are now much more interested in knowing exactly what foods they are putting into their bodies. Real foods and ingredients have become much more popular than the standard processed and industrialised foods.”
Maryline is hoping that the agri-business can continue to change for the better by adopting a more benevolent attitude towards the land, people and animals and that people continue to raise their awareness of the type and quality of food they are choosing.
‘It’s all about people’
Many small owned family run businesses may have been tempted to shut up shop once and for all after the devastation the floods brought. But not Gourmand Ingredients.
“Small business is the life blood of towns up and down the country,” Maryline says, acknowledging how community and small business is so intrinsically intertwined.
It was the community who helped her and John get back on track after they found themselves in a potentially catastrophic situation. Community and small business seem to not only respect one another - maybe they help each other survive more than they realise.
“It’s the people,” Maryline says in conclusion. “It’s all about people.”
Shop at Gourmand Ingredients
a/ Shops 3 & 4, 39 Short St, Port Macquarie NSW 2444, Australia
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