Manilla boutique fruit and veg shop fills grocery ‘gap’

AT A time when the big supermarkets are dominating the grocery landscape, one Manilla couple decided to take a chance on personalised service, quality produce and boutique product lines.

Identifying a “gap in the market”, Rodney and Sonya Sevil, who own the only independent butcher’s shop in town, thought a fruit and vegetable shop was desperately needed – a big gamble considering the dozens that have disappeared from the region in the past decade.

Mrs Sevil opened Manilla Fruit and Veg in December and soon realised the scope for expansion into boutique lines like Hunterbelle Cheese, Market Grocer and Pukara Estate, lines not seen in the big grocery chains. Walking into the Manilla St store is to take a step back in time and that’s just the atmosphere Mrs Sevil and employee Catherine Northey are trying to create.

“People tell us all the time it’s not like any other shop they know – it’s not what they expected,” Mrs Sevil said.

“It’s about personalised service and old-fashioned values, too ... and making people feel comfortable so they can relax and shop without being hassled.”

She said customers loved the variety on offer and a Hunterbelle Cheese tasting with owner Jason Chesworth, who became a household name on My Kitchen Rules, attracted about 200 people. 

“He was amazed – said it was the biggest one he’d had. There were people everywhere,” Mrs Sevil laughed.

It’s not only the locals filling up their trolleys either, with regular customers in Tamworth, Gunnedah, Barraba and Bingara. There’s plans for further expansion, too, and Mrs Sevil laughs at the relentless seven-day-a-week pace they’ve set in the past eight months.

“If you told me 25 years ago when we drove into town for the first time that we’d have a butcher’s shop and now this (business), I would have laughed,” she said.

The tree change she and Rodney left Maitland for all those years ago, driven by a desire to bring up their four young daughters in the country, has paid off for both them and the community they decided to call home.

“There’s good things happening here and I feel like Manilla is starting to build up ... it’s exciting and it’s great being part of that,” Mrs Sevil said.

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