rue and Tom Clay grew up harvesting everything from pumpkins to watermelons on their family farm by the banks of the Murray River in Barham, NSW. And it’s clear the brother and sister duo behind Clay Fine Food & Health have a rare knowledge of seasonal produce that sets their shop apart.
Four years ago, over a coffee at North, they noticed the shop next door was up for lease. Prue had grown tired of her job as a sales rep for a herbal supplements company and Tom wanted a break from classical guitar, so they took a chance. “We had no idea what we wanted to do, but we applied for the lease and got it, so we just made it happen,” says Tom.
Nestled in the idyllic, leafy Rathdowne Village, the Clays are committed to supplying North Carlton with quality produce, health products and fine foods.
The store feels like the corner kind and that may have something to do with their family approach. Tom’s the foodie and Prue has the know-how when it comes to natural health remedies, having studied Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. Some of the fresh produce is even sourced by their dad, Warwick Clay, a fifth generation farmer with mates in great places.
Tom says that when it comes to produce, taste comes first. “We don’t restrict ourselves. Ninety per cent of our produce is organic, but we don’t have hard and fast rules. Organic tomatoes aren’t the best in winter, so at the markets I’ll opt for another variety. Our devotion to taste drives us.”
You’ll have to take care not to drool by the fridge; the free-range, organic Fernleigh meats, Istra smallgoods and Holy Goat cheeses might test you. The shelves teem with varieties of grains, tinned and jarred goods, vitamins and supplements. You can pluck their fresh herbs and the great thing is that the Clays don’t insist on selling by the bunch, so you buy what you need and don’t end up with limp leftovers days later.
But the seasonal, heirloom vegetables and fruits, rich in textural greens and every kind of red to yellow, are the real stars. Packed on makeshift shelves, made from wooden ladders, you can find treasures like French radishes and Chioggia beetroots from Peninsula Fresh Organics on the Mornington Peninsula.
There’s an interesting design sensibility to the store too. A bluey-green wallpaper, crafted especially for Clay by SouthSouthWest (the clever people behind the KeepCup and The Design Files redesign), shows through from behind the produce, the wallpaper accentuated by hand-painted wall decals.
In a room out back lurks the decadence – a selection of organic and preservative-free wines, beers, ciders and sweets. The delectable Monsieur Truffe chocolates are hard to go past.
Clay is a family-run shop with passion for quality produce. Pop in next time you’re in the Village.
719 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North
(03) 9349 3957
Mon to Fri 9am-7pm
Sat to Sun 9am-5pm