From an interview with Paulo Da Silva that has been edited.
The shop has been in the family for the past 45 years.
My godfather started it after he immigrated from a little island called Madiera. He moved to Australia and started Casa Iberica Deli in 1975.
It was very small initially but, over the years, it has grown to three shops and a factory. I moved from South Africa ten years ago and took over the business.
I wanted to leave the country and he wanted to retire, so it was a good fit. Not that he did, because he’s still working over at the factory.
The shop has sold more or less the same goods over the last forty years.
Now there aren’t so many Spaniards living around here. They will come through for the Spanish club that is down the road. But, as the people have gotten older, they want to have a more comfortable retirement.
A lot of the community has moved more into the countryside.
They will still drive down to buy our goods.
Our biggest drawcard is the small goods we produce.
It is because we do things the Spanish and the Portuguese way. Our Chorizo salamis, jamóns and a lot of the cheeses – like the manchego and the goats cheese – are imported from Spain.
And most of our business is advertised through word of mouth. You have to remember that Casa Iberica Deli is an institution. It’s like Parliament House. It is what it is because of where it is.
You couldn’t open a shop like this now because there’s no parking. The area has also become much more expensive and a big part of the Spanish community has moved further away.
But, generally, our customers have stayed the same.
It was extremely difficult for me starting out.
I had my own businesses back home but it was bottle shops and takeaways.
Selling small goods and working in the deli department was completely foreign to me.
And people were taken aback because I am South African. They know my family are Portuguese but they’d laugh at me and say, “what the hell are you doing here?”
So picking up the Spanish lingo was the most important thing.
Now I think they’ve accepted me.
We started wholesaling goods from overseas about three and a half years ago.
Expanding the business was a big challenge.
We had to move that way because – especially with the South American goods – we started getting more competition.
We figured that retail alone wasn’t going to do it. Wholesale allowed us to supply the guys that are in competition with us.
It gave us a bit of an upper hand.
Not to toot my own horn but everyone wants to be Casa Iberica.
People have noticed how much we’ve grown over the years. If you start with a small business and grow it into three shops plus a factory, they think “that’s actually a good business.”
Everybody wants to do the same thing. They think that the grass is greener on the other side.
In reality, the banks own us.
My godfather started at the back in the freezer room.
He used to deal with 100-200 kilos of fish a day. He used that experience to start the fish factory.
It’s a bit like me. I used to buy chorizo and supply it to others. But I thought to myself, “no, why don’t I make my own.”
Now we make our own chorizo, and we are sitting on four tonnes a week.
If I can get it to ten tonnes I’ll be happy.
There isn’t enough hours in the day.
For a business like this, you have to push the 15-16 hour mark to keep it up.
We open from 7:30am-6pm, but start doing the orders for cafes that want custard tarts or salami at 4am.
We try to get to those guys who open early but the time we start depends on who is asking.
Not everyone is prepared to work those long days.
And some workers can’t talk shit.
What I mean by that is they aren’t able to build relationships with customers.
As soon as people realise that you’re friendly, they’ll come back.
The customer is always right but if you have a relationship with them they’ll admit when they are wrong.
I’ll introduce new products as time goes on but, to change the shop itself, I can’t.
This is how it is, and that’s how it will always be.
People recognise it.
The graffiti and the style.
That’s how they know it.
By Aron Lewin.