Simon Hart, director, Chef Fruit & Veg, Sydney Markets
Tell me about Chef Fruit & Veg
I started the business in March when we all had to go into lockdown. We aim to deliver the best fresh fruit and vegetables straight from the Sydney Markets to cafes, restaurants and other parts of the hospitality industry.
We also utilise our trucks and drivers by providing a home delivery service for our fresh fruit and veg boxes as we found that our restaurant orders were somewhat reduced compared to pre-COVID-19.
What do you specialise in?
We also really focus on talking and connecting with all our customers and really listening to what they want and what doesn't work for them.
We want them to think of us as part of their team to help keep their businesses viable in such challenging times.
Who are your customers?
Our customers are predominantly in Sydney's eastern suburbs and the inner west and include cafes, restaurants and pizza bars and home box deliveries.
Many of them are having such a hard time at the moment so I really want to bring my experience as a chef to their businesses and be part of their team.
What sets your business apart from other providores?
My 18 years as a chef mean that I can help our hospitality clients with their costing, enabling them to breakdown the cost of ingredients, commodities and labour, so that they can see the real cost and profitability of a meal.
We also concentrate on supplying the right produce to the right customer.
For example, a chef doesn't want a box of small sweet potatoes that he needs to peel, he needs larger ones that are less time-consuming to peel.
Where do you source your produce from?
We work with wholesalers at the markets to source the best and freshest produce at competitive prices. We also want to start working with some of the local Sydney growers directly.
How did you get into the fruit and veg business?
Working in the fruit and veg business gives me the opportunity to combine my restaurant business acumen, acquired during my 18 years as a chef, with the creativity that fresh fruit and vegetables brings me.
I love the fact that for most chefs the protein was always the hero of the dish, whereas now we are seeing vegetables staking their claim as the star.
I really want to share my growing knowledge of produce with other cooks and chefs.
I started the business because I was talking to my contacts in the hospitality industry and everyone was worried.
I really wanted to keep the wheels turning so when we do get through this together there will be chefs, restaurants, cafes, pizza bars, wholesalers, farmers and suppliers that are still there for us.
What is the best thing about working with fresh produce?
It's a nice business to be in, although it's hard work, it's so rewarding.
In my chefing days I always felt that I had a great responsibility to my patrons.
Working with and supplying fresh fruit and vegetables is an even more responsible job, as I am in a small way, controlling what they eat and contributing to their health.
I think people are becoming more connected to what they eat so it is a great opportunity to share grower stories so that they realise just how much hard work, love and care it takes to get that tomato onto their plate.
I just love working with fresh produce; our boxes go into people's homes, it feeds people and keeps them healthy. I love learning about the produce and promoting healthy eating. It's an inspiration and a challenge. What a great privilege.
How has the business adapted to the Coronavirus lockdown?
With Covid-19 hitting the hospitality and retail sectors so hard I had to move to change direction pretty quickly.
I wanted to help keep everything moving from farmers, suppliers, chefs and everyone related to the industry so I re-purposed my staff, including drivers, to pack home delivery fruit and veg boxes so that we could all keep working.
I have also taken this opportunity to work with our café and restaurants on seasonal menus and costing.
What is the secret to a successful business?
Even though it is sometimes hard, listening to your customers and more experienced people is really important.
At the end of the day they are telling you what you need to know.
What is the most challenging thing you have had to face in the business?
When people get their fruit and vegetables home delivered they are very connected to it; and the lockdown saw a lot of people stuck at home, scared and out of their comfort zone.
One of the few things they could still control was what they ate so they were often very fussy and critical.
We focus on listening to their feedback and making changes where possible.
It also presented a great opportunity to talk about seasonality and different varieties of produce with all of our customers.
What does the future hold for the fruit and vegetable industry?
I think the future is very strong. With so many new influences and recipes; and lots of new and interesting produce, it's a really creative time.
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