There’s something special about the experience of buying your vegies from stall number 50 at South Melbourne Market. Perhaps it’s the earthy smell of pristine Tasmanian soil that clings to eighteen varieties of potato. Or the canopy of dried eucalyptus leaves that creates the ceiling, making a warm and welcoming grotto to explore Georgina’s delights.
Whatever it is, it’s a great recipe, and makes the weekly vegie shop an altogether richer experience than traipsing one’s trolley around any high street supermarket. In Stall 50, Georgina Dragwidge is continuing a tradition that dates back some 140 years.
South Melbourne Market is the oldest continuing market operating in the city, predating even the Victoria Markets. It opened its doors in 1867, and from those very earliest times, potatoes have been sold from the premises that Georgina became the proud owner of just weeks ago. Known as Patrinas’ Potato and Herbs in recent times, under the caring ownership of Anastasia and Dimitri Soumplis, the new owner Kyria Patatina (family and friends call her Georgina), has yet to christen her new business.
“I run it the way Anastasia and Dimitri ran it. Every onion gets checked,” says Georgina, who adds that the handover was helped by the fact that both parties were Greek. “I inherited their suppliers and that’s core to the business.” Georgina Dragwidge (nee Tousoulis) spent her childhood in Flemington, going to the markets with her dad who ran a take-away business and an industrial laundry.
Today the new business is still very much a family affair: mum Matina and sister Angela and the in-laws are all part of the new enterprise, regularly at the till or preparing the produce behind the scenes. Before taking the plunge with the shop, Georgina was a stay-at-home mum. She now juggles bringing up her three-year-old twins Maxwell and Stamatina with husband Michael.
“I wake up at four in the morning two or three times a week, and go to the wholesale markets in Footscray,” says Georgina, who revels in her new retail role. The enthusiasm for the products she sells is completely infectious. As customers pour over the produce, Georgina always has a helpful tip on how the product might be prepared and served. It’s part of the unique experience that shopping at Georgina’s stall brings. Saturday mornings in particular have become a regular opportunity for recipes to be shared between the community that visits the shop. “People have come out of their way to support me. They know they are truly supporting a local farmer, and they come for the integrity of the product.” Much of the produce she sells is sourced from Tasmania, as well as Victoria.
“Every second week my supplier brings them on the Spirit of Tasmania and unloads them at my door,” says Georgina, “we’re one of only two specialist potato shops in Victoria that I know of.” And what makes them different, I ask, from the standard retail outlets. “They’re sat in cool rooms for less time, they’re direct from the farmer.” In addition to the potatoes for which the shop has become famous, Georgina stocks four varieties of sweet potato including the chestnut-tasting Polynesian Kumara, five types of pumpkins, and a selection of other mostly root vegies, along with fiery fresh chillies and their dried counterparts, fresh galangal and turmeric, ginger, garlic, and a whiffy smoked garlic. “We’re the only stall in the market to offer fresh horseradish,” Georgina says with some pride.
And what of the future? Apart from a name, what else will Stall 50’s new owner be bringing to her growing numbers of customers? “We’ll be bringing in mushrooms, perhaps up to twenty different varieties, ” says Georgina. But she’s not about to change a winning recipe too much. “We’ll stick to what we do well, maintaining the quality.”
Stall 50, South Melbourne Market, Coventry Street, opposite Panette cafe. Open 8.00 am-4.00 pm every Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and Friday 8.00 am -5.00 pm.