The Organic Market and Café is a Stirling institution adjacent to the magnificent oak trees on Druid Ave. Popular with everyone from bike riders to dog walkers, it serves as a community focal point for locals and a must see for visitors. Owned and managed by Grahame Murray, with his business and life partner Bronwyn Griffiths firmly ensconced behind the scenes, its enduring appeal lies in its emphasis on simple, wholesome foods and friendly atmosphere. We sat down for a chat with Grahame to find out how it came to be.
How long have you lived in the Adelaide Hills?
I grew up in Napier New Zealand and moved to Sydney at the age of 21 where I worked with the numerous theatre companies. In 1982 I was invited to Adelaide to be interviewed to work with The State Theatre Company. A visit to Mr Lee the Greengrocer in Aldgate, a small farm in Scott Creek that was being available for rent and a visit to The Organic Market clinched the deal for me. These three things, plus the fact that the Adelaide Hills is a wonderful environment to raise a family, made us move across. I worked for 6 years at the State Theatre Company as Production Manager. We also became avid Organic Market shoppers.
What was the driving force behind purchasing the business?
It fulfilled a dream. I was growing veggies and raising chooks at the farm at Scott Creek and I saw it as an extension of that. I thought I’d keep growing but all I ended up with were the best weeds ever! More realistically what I wanted was to build a business and The Organic Market was a golden opportunity to do that. My late wife Caroline and my sister Corrine became part of the team. Corrine had extensive experience running health food shops in the UK, and I convinced her to move across from New Zealand and partner in the business.
The Organic Market is a pioneer in organic retailing, being the first and longest running organic retailer in SA. Is this a mantle you take seriously?
It is in so far as ‘integrity’. If anything we’ve just got stronger since organic certification came in.
There’s something very comforting about the Café. Is this an ambience you strive for?
When we designed the Café we wanted it to feel like a kitchen in someone’s house. In fact we were one of the first Cafés to have an open kitchen. It’s a place with no restrictions and we were keen to make it inviting for people to socialise, work, breastfeed etc. Just to feel at home and share the space with others.
The shop and its produce is always beautifully presented. Who is responsible for this?
I involved a designer right from the outset. A colleague and friend from theatre, Ian Robinson, worked on the design for the shop to have a wow factor. It was all built like a theatre set at home in my shed and then brought in. We did the same with the Café – tables, chairs, counter, coffee machine etc – and even some mock rehearsals!
The business has grown and expanded since you purchased it. What’s next?
The online shop is building. We have the entire product line available online for pick-up and delivery. That said, I don’t think I’m finished within the shop. There’s still things to do.
What happens to your fresh food wastage?
One of our growers, Brian Chapman, takes most of it and uses it as compost. It then comes back to us as fresh organic produce. The rest of it is shared around to local farmers.
How often does the electric car charging point get used?
Not very often but it creates a lot of interest when it does. But the day will come!
Not too long ago you had a party celebrating your 25 year anniversary of owning and running The Organic Market. How many current and past staff came along?
We managed to gather around 150 people (out of 600+) and had a great day, and night.
You talk about The Organic Market family and the team seems really cohesive. What’s your secret?
I like to think it’s a nice place to work. We have work protocols of course, but staff have freedom to be themselves. They are a great group of personalities. It’s also a reflection of Bronwyn’s ‘earth mother’ style. Plus we find opportunities to socialise. Every year we have a staff function and the staff don’t know where we’re going. I give them obscure clues in the lead up but nobody ever guesses. One time we took a double decker bus to Willunga via Kuitpo Forest where we laid out pre-dinner nibbles in the forest with some staff dressed up as elves and gnomes! Then ended up at Russell’s eating pizza and doing the tango!
Normally you’re open 364 days a year, but you had Boxing Day 2014 off last year. Is this a sign that you’re getting lazy?
Bronwyn and I had our extended families in town for Christmas last year, and we didn’t want our staff to give up their family time when we weren’t going to. I guess it’s just part of our ethos. But we’re back to 364 again!
If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
Floating on a houseboat on the River Murray. When we eventually sell that’s the dream. It’s going to be called Café Afloat!