News / Food & Drink

No encore for popular Grantham Street food store

Melba’s will close forever on May 11

“You become part of the furniture, you become part of the community,” says the owner of Melba’s Food Hall, Vince Garuccio.

Mark Phillips

WHEN Melba’s Food Hall announced earlier this month that it would be closing its doors, it generated a wave of anguish not normally associated with a humble grocery store.  

For almost two decades, Melba’s — on Grantham Street opposite the Union Square shopping centre — has been a beacon for the foodies of Brunswick West.  

Under the ownership of Vince Garuccio, who bought the business in 2015, it became the place to go for organic fruit and vegetables, imported cheeses and smallgoods, premium coffee beans, and delicacies that big supermarkets don’t stock. 

But come May 11, and Melba’s will be no more. 

Unlike its musical namesake who was famous for her endless series of farewell concerts, there will be no comebacks for Melba’s after Garuccio’s lease was terminated and he was given a month to vacate the premises. 

The announcement has seen an outpouring of goodwill from Melba’s loyal customers who fondly recall how Garuccio would personally deliver food to their doorsteps during the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. 

Get more stories like this delivered to your inbox

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It is believed that Melba’s first opened in Grantham Street in the late-2000s. Garuccio, a food industry veteran, and his son Jordan took over the business in 2015 and set about making it a speciality food hall for the gourmands of Brunswick West.  

“I didn’t want to be the same as the big retailers, there had to be a point of difference. And that’s how I built the business,” Garuccio said. 

“Suppliers used to come in and say we’ve got these new products for you, do you want to stock them? And then as soon as I found out that Coles or Woolies had them, I wasn’t interested, I’d move on.

“It had to be exclusive, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.” 

Jordan ran the café and for a period they even used a liquor licence to operate as a wine bar. 

But Melba’s would not have become such an integral part of the local character if all it did was sell food. Over time it became – in local resident Lynne Oliver’s words “a terrific community hub” – and Garuccio formed strong bonds with his regular customers who came for a chat as much as to do their shopping. 

He says it is those friendships he will miss more than anything when the store closes. 

Saying goodbye to his longest customers has been emotional with plenty of “waterworks”, Garuccio said. 

“You become part of the furniture, you become part of the community and you get to learn every single customer’s first name, and it’s like I’ve been living here all my life. 

“I’m going to miss the good old chats with a few of my customers over the soccer – they’d come in and talk to me about Liverpool [Football Club]. 

“And others that come in and we’d just sit down and have a chat and talk about general things, how society is going in their world, where they’re working, and so on. And we [would] bounce ideas off of each other.” 

By the start of this decade, Melba’s was employing 20 staff. But then two things happened: Jordan moved to live in the south of France with his French wife, and the COVID pandemic hit. 

Like everyone, Garuccio attempted to pivot to internet shopping but found himself at the back of a long queue of businesses seeking professional support to set up an online store. So he spread the word about phone orders and soon his food deliveries became an essential service for those unable to leave their houses. 

“During COVID Vince was one of those wonderful community stars, delivering groceries, wine, all types of goods to those too unwell, cautious, or simply prevented from leaving home,” said local resident Lynne Oliver. 

Vince Garuccio says he has always tried to stock gourmet items unavailable in the big supermarket chains.

Since the end of the pandemic, it has been hard going for Melba’s as the cost of living crisis has hit shoppers’ hip pockets and today the store employs just six people, including Garuccio. 

Garuccio could see the writing on the wall after the building was sold for $1.25 million in October last year. 

He had attempted to negotiate an extended lease with his previous landlord but since February has been on a monthly lease. 

Garuccio takes consolation from that fact that at 66 the closure of Melba’s has provided an excuse to retire after almost half a century in the food and retail industries. He plans to spend some of that time travelling with his wife, including visiting Jordan who lives near Aix-en-Provence. 

Still, the irony is not lost on him that a new landlord, a hefty rental increase and a weakening economy have been able to do what the COVID pandemic couldn’t and bring his business to a close. 

“I think it’s a sign of the times. As soon as the interest rates went up and the economy started to really tighten I thought this is going to be one hell of a ride to keep things afloat … There were months where I was losing money. It wasn’t the best thing but I had to persevere and try to make the business viable.” 

The final straw was a 40% rent hike after the new landlord took ownership this year. At the start of April, he was told his lease would not be extended any longer.

It is believed that wine merchants Blackhearts & Sparrows will be moving into the space.

The last day for Melba’s Food Hall will be May 11 but Garuccio needs to clear out all stock by May 5. To do so, everything in the store has been heavily discounted until sold out. 

Latest stories: