Pioneer calls it a day
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.