Jo, owner of The Grain Grocer, is a joy to be around. Any time she's at the counter you'll be greeted with a smile that lights up the room and helpful service that can come only from someone who truly knows their products.
She's passed on these winning traits to her daughter, Jess, who you can also find frequently working in store- in fact, you can find Jo's whole family helping out in The Grain Grocer at different times. They're a tight-knit bunch, and Jo wouldn't have it any other way.
It's a rare gift to have a family you can happily work alongside. Of course there are always challenges, but if you can pull it off then you've got a steadfast, trustworthy and loyal team that you know you can always rely on- an invaluable asset for any small business owner.
The Grain Grocer is a brilliant Launceston business, and they also serve a large customer base throughout the state and on the mainland via their online store.
"We specialise in hard-to-find ingredients for modern and old style recipes. Whether you need a teaspoon or a kilo or more, we buy in bulk so you can get as much or as little as you need. Got a recipe and can’t find ingredients? If we don’t already have it, we can try and get it for you."
- From the Grain Grocer website
I sat down with Jo and her daughter Jess for a chat about her business, her history, her family and how she feels about Launceston.
The following interview has been edited in minor ways for ease of readability and brevity
How did you come to be the owner of The Grain Grocer?
Jo: So I actually worked here for three and a half years [before I owned it]. On my very first day working here I said to the previous owner, Michelle, “This will be my shop”. And she said to me, “Very interesting! Let's see”... and then from that day on, every day she would ask me “Is it your shop yet?” So yeah, it was really quite funny. All the customers used to think it already was my shop. Well, it wasn’t. Now it is! I was very fortunate. I just love it. So how it became my shop was right place at the right time, I suppose.
I was very passionate about food, health; I loved the concept. Still love the concept. Having food available to people in all budget ranges is a huge priority of mine- especially in the younger generation. I find it very, very valuable that everyone has access to good food, It doesn't matter how much money you earn, you can still eat it. When buying bulk you can afford to eat it; and I want to show people that you can.
What does your family think about what you do for work, and the business in general?
Jo: At first they were all thinking I was a bloody idiot taking on such a big thing; but now they see the concept behind it and they just love it. They love it. Being a European family, we are very close, and having my little close family- husband and the two girls- I just love being around them all the time. And it's not a job- we all get to hang out.
That must be really wonderful, being able to work so closely with your family like that and have it not be difficult?
Jo: Don't get me wrong, there's some days where you're like, "I need to breathe, Give me some space!" But yeah, I feel very, very fortunate. I never say lucky. I always say the word fortunate because we've worked very hard to get to where we are, but I'm very, very fortunate to be able to wake up every single day and come here.
That's really lovely. Were you anywhere else before you landed in Launceston?
Jo: We moved here 15 years ago. We originally came from the New South Wales Central Coast, and we moved down here for a better lifestyle. The girls were obviously younger, so George and I moved. I actually transferred down through Telstra and was in the corporate world, and I applied for a job without him knowing... and I got the job! So we had to move my family down here in four days.
In four days??
Jo: Yeah, so George and I had to come down two weeks before to find a house and a school, and I had to meet my boss. That's how it all started. Moving to Tassie four days. A massive move. Best move we've ever done and we’d never move back.
What do you love most about being a mum?
Jo: It’s the challenges, believe it or not. I love watching… Watching how amazing my girls have become. They’ve turned into these incredible humans. Just to see all that hard work. Those blood sweat and tears. It really comes together.
How important is sustainability to you and your family and what do you do in your own home to reduce food waste?
Jo: We have a property, so we have a lot of farm animals. Sustainability is huge for us. We're trying to reduce our footprint quite a lot, we recycle a lot. We reduce plastics by using reusable products. We have just recently purchased a hybrid car, and we're trying our hardest to go off grid on the property. My farm animals eat my scraps. So if there's any food waste, which is very rare, they eat the scraps and I just buy what I need [and nothing more]. Hence the bulk whole foods.
You’ve implemented it quite well in store here too, to try and eliminate all of the plastics…
Jo: You've probably seen the transition of reducing the plastics here. We do try very very hard to reduce it – look, you'll never stop it. We do need plastic. But yeah, trying to reduce it as much as we possibly can. It can be very hard, but it’s doable.
I’ve got a few shorter questions… I love Launnie because?
Jo: The family feel. And it's picturesque, isn't it? Every day I say I love living here. The people... The people are just so genuinely lovely. Where do you go that another shop is willing to teach you how to do something on your EFTPOS machine? We all help each other. We're all a community. It's a family-like community. You don't get that elsewhere. The small town feeling in a city? We're so fortunate to have that. We all look after each other. It's not a competitive place. We all support each other- that's why I love Launnie. It’s beautiful.
What's your favourite restaurant to go to for celebration?
Jo: Oh my god, you can't ask me that. They're all amazing. I don't have a favourite.
Oh, you really don't?
Jo: Nope, because I love them all.
Give me your top three, then?
Jo: Stelo. The food there is incredible. Alchemy is beautiful. Cataract on Paterson, oh my god... Everywhere makes such good food, they really do. The food is phenomenal- and we get told that every single time we have a tourist that walks through that door. They go “Your food is unbelievably amazing here in Launceston!” And I'm like, yeah, I know right?? You wait till Saturday when you go to the harvest market, or you wait till you go out to Evandale… It’s mind-blowing. And the wine! Oh, the wine… this is the place to be.
What is your favourite item that you sell here at The Grain Grocer?
Jo: My MooGoo products. I’ve never really thought about it though… I love everything we have here.
Jess: I like the bulk products we have. Because before, I always went to the supermarket and bought more bags [waste]. And now that I work here, my partner goes to the supermarket, buys bags and stuff like that and I go "Well, we have that at work!" I just brought in my jar for sugar, and I filled it up and it was like $2. That's the coolest thing ever.
That's similar to the price you'd pay at a chain supermarket, but with none of the extra waste and the added bonus of supporting a small business...
Jo: Do you know what happened this morning? So that man who came in this morning, Jess? He’s a homeless guy. I asked him, “What’s your budget?” He spent a substantial amount of money with us today, but he bought so much food. I asked him, “So what are you doing today?” and he said “I'm gonna go back and I'm gonna think up some recipes.” Then he tells me he’s living under the bridge, so I put it all in plastic bags to keep it dry and safe… But to see that he had all this food, it was so overwhelming. He got food that I know that he's going to eat… I’m glad I can provide that.
Jess: I had a lady come in, recently homeless, and say “I need things that are going to be something that I can keep growing, like sprouts and stuff like that that are healthy for me.” And she asks if we have vegetables and fruit, I said yeah we're getting them in… And she was so happy that she could start from the beginning where you sprout your beans and then your alfalfa and stuff like that; and then you can come here and get spices to cook them and they're like 20 cents for a handful. It's fantastic.
It sounds like it's more affordable and accessible for a lot of people, buying only what you need like this
Jess: Yeah, and we want to go into universities and stuff and show that it costs like 50 cents to make a good meal. You don't need to be eating nothing but ramen. Last night I made pasta. I didn't have passata and I was making Bolognese, so I used canned tomatoes and it was pretty much exactly the same as normal… it's just so much more affordable. And I never thought about it until I started working here. Now, my fridge is always full, and I always have leftovers. So I have leftovers in the freezer, which was perfect for when I got COVID and couldn’t work. I didn't have the money to be able to pay for groceries and stuff, but I had leftovers! I had a spinach lasagne, and gnocchi and stuff like that that I had saved before and didn't even think about, and it was all in the freezer.
Jo: We've got an elderly gentleman that sells us his organic vegetables. So those vegetables that you see here, they come from an 86 year old man. He sells them to me, and then I sell them off cheap. It’s backyard organic, certified, and affordable.
What's your favourite shop in Launceston?
Jo: Inspire. I’m so bad, I always go in and they know me by my first name. It’s my favourite shop.
Jess: Minimax is also good. We go to Minimax almost every day because of the jars and stuff like that.
Jo: Yeah, they look after us. There's just so many good things here… My favourite shop is Launceston!
What is your favourite place to go and get a coffee around here?
Jo: Mojo. Mojo makes my favourite coffee. You have to go try it. Mojo makes a damn good coffee.
Is there something that you would like to see change in Launceston in the future?
Jo: Yeah, I think there needs to be more outside eateries. We need to have… I think we need to have more young people on the council, to be more engaging. It's an older demographic, and we need a younger demographic on board. A lot more shops that are on the mainland need to be in town… And coffee shops not to close at three o'clock in the afternoon! What’s with that? It needs to be more engaging for tourists, too. After three and on Sundays!
You can find Jo and The Grain Grocer at 67 George Street, or online