By Rachael Fleury
For the Caiafa family, the Queen Victoria Market holds a very special place in their history.
M & G Caiafa, or “the corner bread shop”, as its customers fondly know it, is a family-run business that was started 47 years ago by Michael Caiafa Snr and his wife, Grace Caiafa.
The shop is now run mainly by the four Caiafa children, with Michael Caiafa Jnr overseeing many of the day-to-day operations.
Mr Caiafa said both his parents had long associations with Queen Victoria Market before becoming stallholders.
“Dad grew up on Capel St, North Melbourne, a couple of streets over from the market, and Mum started working at the market as a teenager at the stall opposite,” Mr Caiafa said.
Both of his parents moved to Melbourne as children from the same village in Foggia, Italy. However, they didn’t meet until they were in Melbourne, in their early 20s.
“I think my father might have proposed two or three times before my mother said yes,” Mr Caiafa said with a wry smile before adding, “my mother was very beautiful”.
When the M&G Caiafa site became available, Mrs Caiafa knew she wanted to take the lease up on the stall and convinced her new husband of the idea.
“For the first three or four years, Dad was still doing fruit deliveries for other businesses in the market, and Mum worked another job as well, just so they could make the shop work,”
Sadly, Mr Caiafa’s mother died in 1995, when he was just thirteen after she developed a brain tumour.
“Deep down, we all work for Mum. It makes us so happy to do this for her. The shop was her baby, and this is her legacy,” he said.
Mr Caiafa describes the store as a “one-stop-shop” for baked goods. They sell an array of different breads, including the Noisette and Irrewarra range.
“The evolution of bread in Melbourne is phenomenal. Sourdough used to be a hippy thing, and now there are so many companies doing artisan breads and so many breads to choose from,” Mr Caiafa said.
The shop also sells fresh pizza bases, tortillas, handmade chocolates, a selection of nut butters, all made on-site, including peanut, pistachio, cashew and macadamia butter.
“We’re a big food family, and our customers know that if we don’t like it, we won’t sell it,” Mr Caiafa said.
Mr Caiafa visited France in 2012 and said he was “blown away” by the bakeries and what they were doing in smaller shops.
“Now we get products from Noisette and bake them in our oven in small batches, so we bring out freshly baked croissants for our customers throughout the day,” Mr Caiafa said.
M & G Caiafa has recently expanded its range to include Elwood Sourdough and quiches and pasties from another local Melbourne brand, Too Good Bakers.
“The Elwood Sourdough range is made by an old school baker from his commercial kitchen at his home in Elwood, Mr Caiafa said.
The range has amusing names, including “The Sheila” – their version of the French baguette and “Tipsy”, a loaf packed full of champagne-soaked Australian raisins, coated with a champagne and orange zest glaze and edible flowers.
Mr Caiafa said he loves working at the market because of the incredible food on offer and the great community of traders. He also loves the wide variety of people he talks to every day.
“We’ve got customers that we’ve had for more than 40 years, and they become like family,” Mr Caiafa said.
Gwyn and Sue Owen have been shopping at Queen Victoria Market since 1973. These days they come twice a week, on Thursdays, to buy their food and on Sundays to meet their children for coffee and doughnuts.
“We’ve known many of the marketers over the years, but M & G Caiafa is always a welcoming store to go to. We knew the parents, and now we know all their children too,” Mr Owen said.
Mr Caiafa said the family shop would keep evolving with international food trends and that his father, who is still working in the shop, wants to make it to 50 years of working there before he retires.
“The market is a very special place for us, and I feel sorry for people who only shop at supermarkets and think that’s okay,” Mr Caiafa laughed.
“They’re missing out on the fresh, real food that you can get at an affordable price at the market.” •
For more information: mgcaiafa.com.au