Arrivederci e buona fortuna, Ersilia

At the Capital radio station for seniors, where I volunteer for a couple of hours each week, I am sometimes greeted with a hey kiddo. As many people there are only slightly senior to me, I like to think it’s because they perceive me as having a youthful outlook. But what do I know, it’s guess work. Perceptions, of course, can go for you or against you. Ersilia’s cheery greeting whenever I entered her tiny Italian deli at the South Terrace corner of the Freo markets was always a bright and cheery ciao bella, which like the hey kiddo tended to lift the spirits.

Such moments can’t be built into a business plan, like the one Ersilia studiously uses to develop her business (to the point of being in the running for a Business Foundations NEIS Award 2022 award) but they are the moments which can make customers return again and again to spend money, for many reasons: they like the people, the place feels right, they feel welcome.

I had a similar small moment at the Japanese food stall in the Old Shanghai food markets opposite Fremantle markets, when I said no to the serving of rice because I wasn’t hungry enough. After I sat down to eat, one of the servers came and handed me 50 cents back. The gesture was as small as Ersilia’s ciao bella, but in the over twenty years that I have declined bread (from toasted sandwichs!) and other parts of meals because I am gluten-free, I have never been offered a refund. The gesture was touching and I will return there and, this time, I’ll include rice in my order.

I have been visiting Ersilia Festa’s Italiano – The Mediterranean Deli on the outside of Fremantle Markets, far too irregularly, for some months now to eat lunch, taste her tempting treats, drink her fabulous coffee and spend more than I should.

I have often been tripped up by the end-of-week opening days of the markets so this Saturday I was determined to go. I was surprised on arrival to see the sign in the window saying the small deli was closing. Ersilia is leaving and it’s a sad moment for Freo (and one I knew fellow Shippees would want to know about).

Ersilia is a very positive person and wants to leave Freo, and what she calls her beautiful and supportive Fremantle customers, in a good frame of mind. She is after all entering a new chapter and is full of ideas for her new business.

But as a customer and Fremantle resident I was upset to hear of some of the things that have happened in her time at the Markets, including difficult encounters with men who suggest her success is down to her beauty not to her hard work; problems with anti-social behaviour by young people waiting at the bus stop opposite her shop door; and issues with high rents (affecting all stall holders).

Ersilia, like many new migrants (she has been here seven years), is multilingual (speaks four languages) and her education and training in Italy and here, suggests she will succeed, but it is also important that one enjoys one’s daily work. In Fremantle this suggests that new entrepreneurs need to be supported, not only in building their skills, but in providing encouraging, shared working environments.

We need more small business hubs in Fremantle with shared, office-style facilities and equipment for new entrepreneurs to occupy at reduced rents for their first few years in business. Another idea for using those wonderful rust-enhanced sheds on the Freo portside?
So, it’s ciao bella Ersilia e gracie mille for your lovely food, your warm greetings and for me, the best coffee in Freo, hands down.

Ersilia tells me she will alert us to the address of her new premises on Instagram @italiana_themediterraneandeli when her negotiations are complete. Her last day is Friday 1 April, so follow her in Instagram and beat a path to her door to wish her well!

Ciao bella Ersilia, ce mancherai!

By Christine Owen

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