We're putting the Stockist Chailight on Rob from MAD Wholefoods in Summer Hill. From IT professional to wholefoods small business owner, Rob is sharing his passion for wholesome foods and sustainability to the local community. We're grateful that our Chai Walli blends are being stocked at his store. Let's hear his story...
Tell us a little about your story and how you started your business
Interestingly enough I started my professional career in IT and had just been promoted to a senior architect role, but it wasn’t long before I realised I just didn’t have my heart in it. I’ve always had an appreciation for cooking and food, especially as my wife is a brilliant cook, and we both care about using good quality, local ingredients. It was when travelling in Byron Bay back in 2019, that I found the inspiration to start my own wholefoods store.
The opportunity presented itself when we returned in the form of an empty shop front in Summer Hill and I knew the local community would have an appreciation for the products I wanted to offer. Not only are we amongst other great local shops, but the people of the area are extremely welcoming and friendly.
How did you come up with the name MAD Wholefoods?
Some call it a “Middle Aged Disaster”, and maybe it is, but seriously, it stands for Making A Difference. Fundamentally this is what I want my business values to communicate. The play on words has worked in my favour in other ways such as “MAD for leaving my job in IT” and “MAD for the Inner West community”, and catchy alliterations like our “MAD Muesli”.
What is most rewarding about having your own small business?
The people. The customers and suppliers I have connected with have been so rewarding. When it comes to my suppliers, I really care about understanding their story and supporting their local business. By doing so, I can share this with customers who often ask me about the products. I will tell you the story behind how it was created and the people behind it.
I’ve met so many amazing people from the Summer Hill community and am grateful for the relationships built. So many customers come in to share their recipes and homemade treats using products from the store, which also inspires my enthusiasm with food and to experiment with my own cooking.
As a small business that feels strongly about sustainability, what practices do you do to encourage this?
I’m proud to say we are a community-focused food store selling local, ethically sourced wholefoods, unpackaged and waste-free. We encourage our customers to bring in their own jars and boxes, which we also have available, so they can reuse every time they visit. In the store we use only recycled packing, REDcycle for all plastics, and TerraCycle where they break down plastics into plastic chips that can be used as raw materials to create new products such as outdoor furniture, decking, playground equipment etc.
Sourcing local ingredients is also very important to us so we source Australian produce wherever we can. We already have great produce in this country so we don’t need to wear the carbon footprint. Oats, for example - we have beautiful organic oats in Australia, so we don’t need to import them from Finland which is what many businesses do. Of course, we are also supporters of small businesses, such as authentic masala chai from Chai Walli in Summer Hill, Drunken Sailor jams and relishes in Dulwich Hill, and chilli oil from Beverly Hills.
As a small business owner, I’m in a position to inspire others with their sustainability too, for both customers and suppliers.
How did you first discover Chai Walli?
It was actually through John & Glen the purveyors of the wonderful Summer Hill Honey. It’s a fantastic local business they run by setting up hives in people’s backyards around the local area and the honey is then harvested from them. From meeting them, they had recommended that we must stock your chai in our store, and here we are.
Tell us about your first chai experience
I was actually in India, so I’m fortunate enough that my first time was in the most authentic way. It reminded me a lot of enjoying an Italian espresso - you go to a side street shop, have a shot and move on.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to start their own business?
Make sure it’s something you really want to do - you’ll need to live and breathe it so you must have the enthusiasm and passion towards every aspect.
If there was one thing you want the world to know, what would it be?
This is not a rehearsal.