An enterprising Oamaru family is catering for the town’s widening tastes.
Steve and Clara Tran have extended their fruit and vegetable shop next to Coupland’s in Thames St. It now has a chiller containing Asian foods that are increasingly in demand as the local population becomes more multicultural.
The Trans bought Garden Fresh about 15 months ago. Originally from Vietnam, they lived in Indonesia and Sydney for several years before crossing the Tasman five years ago.
After visiting the South Island in 2006 with their three young children, they made a 10-year plan to retire here. However, an offer they could not refuse at the top of the Sydney property price cycle prompted them to arrive after nine years.
“It’s so good here,” Mr Tran said.
He believed people who had lived elsewhere appreciated Oamaru the most, as they had other places to compare it with.
The Trans have been building up their clientele while getting to know the people who grow most of the produce they sell. They buy locally where possible, to ensure the fruit and vegetables are fresh and have the unique tastes that come from North Otago soils.
As ethnic diversity has strengthened here, more variety in foodstuffs was needed, Mr Tran said.
“They are eating different from New Zealanders.”
Some customers used to drive to Dunedin or Christchurch to find the rice, noodles and seasonings they wanted.
“Now they can get it here.”
Mr Tran sources the goods from an Auckland supplier, who visits once every six months and dispatches orders within a couple of days – ”subject to availability”.
Iranian dates and coconut drinks were among the other specialty foods in stock.
Customers were becoming more concerned about health, Mr Tran said. They chose to buy fresh produce so they could eat a healthier diet.
Fruit and vegetables were equally in demand, but one item stood out.
“We sell so many avocados you wouldn’t believe – 200 to 300 a week.”
That was a lot for “a very small shop”, he said.
Potatoes always sold well, too, Mr Tran said.
“We support local growers who support locals.
“An out-of-town spud can never beat a local spud.”
Lettuces grown in Oamaru and sold mixed in bags were also popular, as were strawberries grown within the district.
He bought apricots, plums and nectarines from the Waitaki Valley, but the oranges came from Gisborne because they could not be grown this far south.
The Trans’ children all help out in the shop when they can. Older son Henry (19) is in his second year of studying business and finance in Dunedin, Benjamin (16) is at Waitaki Boys’ High School and will be involved with Plunket Electrical as part of its Gateway programme this year, and Kimberley (16) is at Waitaki Girls’.
Mr Tran splits his time between the shop and his other career as a real estate agent at Ray White. He was now helping other new arrivals to find the perfect place in his adopted home.