Rita’s Coffee and Nuts (circa 1981)

Address: Stall 18, South Melbourne Market 
Phone: 9690 4414
From an interview with Rita that has been edited.

I started this business by myself.

I was married with two kids, we had a business in a smaller shop that wasn’t doing well and my husband worked at a butcher shop.

I used to shop at the market but there weren’t enough people selling produce. I’m a South Melbourne girl, so the next step was here. It took me a few years, but I wanted to do something.

I made an application to the Town Hall Health Department who owned the market in those days. The director knew me from the butcher shop and said, “we’ll help you but we don’t have a lock up shop.

“You can come and give it a go working as a casual.”

So we started in a van.

We’d pack it on Saturday night, put the kids on top of the nuts and come every Sunday for a one-year trial.

Photo of Rita by Tatiana C C Scott
Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

In the meantime the market caught fire.

It started from the front near the other nut shop. Half the market was closed for two years and – as they created new shops – this one became available. That’s how I started. 

We’ve always sold coffee and nuts and I haven’t changed the companies I deal with. You go with the flow, and you don’t stop. It’s about variety, and people want different things.

You can’t just give me almonds and walnuts.

You make and provide what people like.


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The business didn’t work for the first five years.

The Sunday that we opened, we took $5 and that was a lot of money. No one used to come down.

We focused on making a dollar to pay the rent.

The demographic changed slowly and it’s not the same people anymore. A lot of migrants and older people have moved out of the area.

It was a different time. They brought trolleys and cooked with spices, beans, chickpeas and lentils. We grew up with those foods.

Now, to buy a house in South Melbourne you need $3m, or $2m for a one-bedroom apartment. It’s younger and more educated people who want to live near the city.

They love to cook with different ingredients, and are willing to receive help and listen.

Everyone cooks now.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott
Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

We have some of the same customers from the beginning.

The only thing is we’re old now.

I have a boy who used to come in a pusher. He just turned 20 and works for me on the weekend. It’s surreal. When he was in the pram I said, “one day you’ll work for me.”

And two of my three kids were five and two sleeping in the car when I started. They have their own jobs and degrees but still work here. They grew up in the business and will soon run the place.

From now on I’m taking it a bit easier.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott
Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

I’m one of the oldest people in the market.

The fish shop has been here forever but they are the kids not the parents.

But I still love the chaos.

It’s a market and we need that.

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I worked for five years cleaning offices across the road to pay for the rent.

Like I said, it’s not easy to run your own business.

But I said to myself, “Rita, you have no other choice but to focus.”

You have to believe in yourself, and I always had a good family by me.

Above everything else is family.

This is not a job, it’s my heart and soul.

This is my love.

Photo by Tatiana C C Scott
Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

Written by Aron Lewin with photos by Tatiana C C Scott. 

Get in touch at talesofbrickandmortar@gmail.com

Other stories:

South Melbourne Market 

South Melbourne – My Market Story

Broadsheet (Tess McLaughlan)

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