When Anthony Sarks and his brother Richard began selling excess tomatoes by the side of the road on the outskirts of Port Macquarie nearly 15 years ago, all they were after was some beer money.
They certainly had no ambitions or hopes about setting up one of the NSW Mid-North Coast city’s most important primary-industry-based enterprises.
But their tomatoes were so delicious that this result now seems quite natural. And I guess that the idea’s time had come, and that the brothers had the nous and inherent expertise to grab what seemed like a successful idea and run with it.
Regardless, the rest, as they say in the classics, is history, and Ricardoes was on the road to fame and success well and truly before the brothers even knew it First came the tomatoes, then came the strawberries, then came the Big Red Café.
These days they have a plethora of hydroponic greenhouses that produce virtually year-round crops, harvest eight varieties of tomatoes and ripen some 30,000 strawberry plants.
On just about any weekend — and during the week for that matter —the place really hums.
It all seemed like a completely natural progression, and, if you listen to Anthony’s explanation, it certainly was.
That explanation is based on a couple of really simple concepts.
Firstly, what Ricardoes is all about is bringing their customers to them, rather than them taking their produce to the customer.
It provides those customers with a great day out, whether they’re from Port or travelling part or all of the Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane.
It means that Anthony and Richard completely bypass the middlemen who absorb the lion’s share of the profit, and that they can offer a very good product at an attractive price, pay all their staff and make some pretty useful beer money for themselves.
And it means that they can tailor the business to suit the needs of the customer, much more than can most.
“That’s why people keep coming back as a family unit,” says Anthony.
“When they harvest from our runners, the little kids can attack the very bottom layer, the grandparents can stick to waist-and-shoulder height, and the more agile adults can pick up anything in between. Everyone has a good time and contributes to the effort.”
It also means that they avoid the expense of providing transport, storage facilities and sales space for what are essentially perishable commodities. In other words, the business is very much ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’, two absolute buzzwords in today’s environment.
Secondly, another thing that Ricardoes is all about is cutting, hopefully very nearly completely eliminating, waste.
If something isn’t good enough to used for its primary purpose — mainly direct sales through the shop or via direct harvesting — it finds an application further downstream, usually in produce such as tomato relish or strawberry jam.
“We pride ourselves on using everything,” said Anthony. “I think we’ve taken the ‘nose-to-tail’ concept to its natural conclusion.”
That’s why the brothers didn’t worry about producing a bumper crop of strawberries this year. They just turned it into jam, which I can vouch for the quality of. And with which they’re doing very nicely thank you.
And a couple of words of advice.
One from me. Don’t get Anthony started on the major retail chains. He dislikes them with a vengeance.
And one from Anthony. Don’t forget that tomatoes are a fruit and store them in a bowl on the table or sideboard with other fruit, not in the fridge’s veggie crisper.
IF YOU GO
Ricardoes Tomatoes & Strawberries, 221 Blackmans Point Road, Port Macquarie (just off the Pacific Highway just north of the city); phone (02) 6585 0663; visit www.ricardoes.com. Guided tours 11am weekdays.
John Rozentals was a guest of Port Macquarie Tourism