Pi­o­neer calls it a day

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Graeme Phillips

HIS face beam­ing, Frank De­marte said “Graeme, I’m re­tir­ing”

Echoes of Nel­lie Melba. “How many re­tire­ments can one man have Frank?” I replied.

“No. This is it. I fin­ish on the 23rd, jump on a cruise to New Zealand with Vin­cenza [ his wife] on the 27th and cel­e­brate my 70th on board the next day. Af­ter 30 years, that’s it.”

And that will be it for the man who, in his own quiet, self- ef­fac­ing way, has been sin­gle- hand­edly re­spon­si­ble for putting a greater diver­sity of qual­ity prod­ucts on our plates, on su­per­mar­ket shelves and in our home pantries than any­one else in all those years.

He started DS Trad­ing in 1983 in the Eski Ice build­ing on the Brooker with a 3m x 3m cold room and 13 prod­uct lines, in­clud­ing Ho­bart’s first Ital­ian sun- dried toma­toes.

“I brought in five cases of those toma­toes in the first or­der,” he said.

“They were the sort of thing I re­mem­ber my mother and grand­mother do­ing ev­ery year in our moun­tain vil­lage in Cal­abria.

“Here, I ate three- quar­ters of that first or­der my­self and it still took me three years to sell the rest. How things have changed”.

Those toma­toes were soon fol­lowed by things like pro­sciutto, salami, culi­nary oils and vine­gars, pick­led ar­ti­chokes, eggplants, pep­pers and other an­tipasti in­gre­di­ents and, mem­o­rably, the city’s first gi­ant wheels of aged Parmi­giano Reg­giano, which he used to cut and por­tion with due cer­e­mony.

He helped set up Hill St Gro­cer’s first deli sec­tion and sup­plied much of the then new deli range for Woolworths, train­ing the staff and con­duct­ing in- store tast­ings and demon­stra­tions statewide.

“At the time, th­ese were new prod­ucts, new flavours. The busi­ness al­most went broke be­fore chefs and the pub­lic learnt to ap­pre­ci­ate them”.

In­stead, his sup­pli­ers stuck with him and, 23 years later, he had 10 staff, three re­frig­er­ated de­liv­ery trucks, three large cold rooms, a walk- in freezer and stocked more than 3000 dif­fer­ent prod­ucts when he sold DS Trad­ing to Launce­s­ton- based Mario Whole­salers and re­tired for the first time in 2006.

He says he no­ticed things start­ing to change in the mid-’ 90s.

“There was a new at­ti­tude in restau­rants.

“Chefs and the pub­lic be­came more open to new prod­ucts and be­came more dis­cern­ing about qual­ity.

“Since then, of course, things have jumped quite a few notches and it pleases me that Ital­ian is now about the most pop­u­lar food in town.”

His sec­ond re­tire­ment came when Mario Whole­salers sold to PDF.

Then one of his long- time sup­pli­ers, Geno­bile Brothers in Mel­bourne, brought him back to help them set up their Tas­ma­nian op­er­a­tion.

Now, af­ter ar­riv­ing in Tas­ma­nia as a 12- year- old with no English, com­plet­ing a brick lay­ing ap­pren­tice­ship at the Zinc works “He’s never laid a brick since,” says Vin­cenza and be­ing in­tro­duced to the food in­dus­try in his fa­ther’s cor­ner store in South Ho­bart, and later in Le­nah Val­ley, he is re­tir­ing to his 70 olive trees and an acre- and- a- half veg­etable gar­den in Ber­riedale.

In the ’ 60s, his fa­ther set up a small,

com­mer­cial win­ery in the Fe­male Fac­tory us­ing South Aus­tralian grapes to pro­duce a Waratah Red and a Wellington White.

To­day, there’s a wall plaque at the fac­tory record­ing his Sor­rento Win­ery.

In­stead of a wall plaque, Frank’s me­mo­rial will be the re­spect and grat­i­tude in which he is held by all in the Ital­ian and wider restau­rant and del­i­catessen com­mu­ni­ties and the deep thanks that they, and we con­sumers, owe to him.

May he fi­nally en­joy a long and very happy re­tire­ment with Vin­cenza, his wife of 45 years.

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