M&G Caiafa – est 1974

Located in: Queen Victoria Market

Address513 Elizabeth St, Melbourne VIC 3000

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From a conversation with Michael that has been edited

My mum and dad bought the business in 1974.

From the age of 13 mum was involved in the market, and worked across the road at a deli. Dad was a sheet metal worker doing fruit deliveries at the QVM. He also worked as a paperboy here in the early 60’s.

One day, this shop came up for sale and my mum said that it would be a good idea to buy it. The shop was Herbert Adams back then, a cake shop which sold old Australian style pastries. My parents transformed it into what we see today.

My siblings and I have been in the shop since we were toddlers. I started serving in 1989, when I was about eight years old. Now I work here full time, and my three sisters basically work at the shop full time.

My mum passed away 22 years ago, and dad has taken a back-seat since then.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

Our main focus is bread.

We also have nuts, dried fruit, pantry items, confectionary, local made nougat, loose chocolate, cooking chocolate and we do a range of nut butters.

We have made peanut butter for close to 30 years and – in recent times – we have expanded into different nut butters.

The nut butters are the only thing we make on premises.

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The business has changed over the years.

When my parents took over the cake shop in the 70’s and 80’s there were a lot of European migrants working and living in the city.

Dad tailored the business towards that by introducing nuts, dried fruit, continental breads and real European style chocolates.

Then my siblings and I took over in the 90’s and saw artisanal bread coming through – sourdough, gourmet etc – so we really pushed for that.

Today, there’s almost a French revolution happening with artisanal bread.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

I think there’s a lot more tourists, and maybe a bit more of an Asian demographic at the market now.

It represents the north-end of the city with such a high density of international students.

There was also a big swing in the early and late 2000’s, when a lot of offices moved to Docklands. That changed the demographic because we had so many office workers who would come and shop here regularly.

We still rely on the Flemington, North Melbourne and North Carlton 5-10km radius locals to keep us going.

So it’s probably 70 per cent locals and 30 per cent tourists.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

The shop hasn’t changed too much

But the environment around us has evolved over the years.

For example, 15-20 years ago, we weren’t even thinking about having French cheese. And in the 90’s – when France was doing nuclear testing – no one would even speak of French produce. There was just King Island Brie, now there’s truffle and fifty shades of blue.

And, for so long, we weren’t allowed to import cold meats from overseas. Now, you’ll see Italian prosciutto and all of that kind of stuff.

It adds to the diversity of food offered at the market.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

I think the beauty of shopping at markets is that you find where you want to shop.

You have your 5-6 outings, and you realise, “this is the place I go to.”

You get used to where you are going, and I think the trader plays that role of communication and inviting the people back.

That’s a big part of the experience.

The biggest thing we get from interstate travellers is, “we don’t have this in Sydney.”

“We don’t have this in Brisbane.”

They don’t have anything like what we have here.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

In 2012, we saw a bit of a downturn.

I think the market dropped off about 20 per cent, and it hasn’t really recovered since.

I don’t think we promote how lucky we are in Melbourne to have six working markets within one city. The Queen Victorian Market, Prahran, Dandenong, South Melbourne, Preston and Footscray. It’s amazing.

So, especially with these multinational companies coming in, markets need to be protected a lot more. Embracing markets is a way that people can feel good about buying fresh produce.

You won’t get better meat, breads and vegetables at a reasonable price anywhere else.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

I think the redevelopment of the QVM comes down to writing a retail plan for a space where I don’t think you can really write a plan.

The market has to evolve naturally or you risk killing the spirit and the culture.

The plan is for 30-40-50 years ahead but you can’t just implement that and say, “this is the way it is.”

That’s not going to work.

They have to be very careful that they don’t jeopardise the produce that appeals to locals. If you take out a deli and put in a trendy café, you risk losing that charm.

We have so many hectares of space but I think – with the lower market especially, and the fresh fruit produce – it has to be protected.

Once that is tampered with, we’ll lose our regulars.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

Regulars are loyal.

And they are often generational customers.

It’s their families and families and families.

People have been shopping here for 50 years, then their kids will shop here.

It’s a beautiful thing.

So we’ll just follow the trends as we have been for the past 44 years.

I don’t know what’s around the corner but I’m sure we’ll find it.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

Written By Aron Lewin. All photos by Tatiana C C Scott


Other articles 

The Guardian – Melissa Davey

For Love of Substance 

Australian Traveller 

Spoonfuls of Wonderlust

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