Working 15-hour days, seven days a week for three years straight, is not a typical work schedule. However, this was the sacrifice husband and wife duo, Kerry and Mark Santariga, had to make to turn their vision into a reality after taking over Belrowes News and Mini Mart in 2013.
“Mark and I had managed and owned other businesses prior to taking on Belrowes, and we had come to a point where we wanted to try something different,” explains Kerry.
“When we came across Belrowes we saw it as a challenge and thought it had great potential.”
Kerry and Mark wanted to maintain Belrowes’ newsagency roots; however, they also identified the need to adapt to the changing times. It was through Kerry’s life-long passion for food, that the couple decided they would start to diversify the business by offering home-made food and coffee options. This ensured they could continue to supply locals with newsagency services, whilst also growing a profitable, and sustainable business model that would survive for years to come.
“In this time, we feel it is ever important for small businesses to diversify their offering and it was and continues to be equally important for us to offer something new to our expanding customer base,” continues Kerry.
“Newsagencies are still very relevant today, however, when we took over Belrowes we also wanted to move with the times and offer our customers the best of both worlds.”
“While we had no prior experience in the hospitality industry, I have a great love of food and have always enjoyed making food for friends and family.
“We saw this as a great opportunity to shift the direction of the business whilst putting my skills and life-long passion for quality food to use in a professional environment”.
The couple immediately got to work, remodelling the business to include new shelving, food cabinets, and a commercial kitchen. Six years later, those long days have certainly paid off, and they have since established a loyal following thanks to the growing number of food options available.
“We started by introducing our own pies and sausage roll recipes, and over the last few years we have grown to offer coffee and fresh homemade food including meals, gourmet sandwiches, breakfast, lunch and dinner options,” says Kerry.
“We have now expanded to include catering options, a dining area, eco-friendly stock, signage of our food offerings out the front, and a community library where our customers can call in and find a treasured book to read or sit and enjoy a coffee and meal in store.”
Kerry makes note of the integral role social media has played in marketing and branding the business and explains how they have used this as a platform to showcase a holistic idea of what the business offers.
“We have been working on creating a very constant online presence through our social media and this is certainly getting traction which has assisted in creating that shift and really showcasing the other options we have available,” says Kerry.
“The great thing about still being a newsagency is that customers will come in to purchase lottery tickets, and then will leave with one of our home-made pies, or cakes, and they then know for next time what else we offer.”
Part of this growth process has included the building of Kerry and Mark’s team, which, after running the business themselves for the first three years, has offered the couple some respite. It has also ensured Belrowes can continue to grow and develop, even in the unlikeliest of times.
“I really like to employ locally, and I have a fantastic team of staff that each have wonderful customer service,” says Kerry.
“As we have been fortunate to have picked up trade throughout the pandemic and experienced a huge surge in our food sales, I have had to increase staff to three in the kitchen, and we have expanded our team from seven to 14”.
This increase in trade has meant Belrowes could launch their training meal program, a new venture targeted towards those involved in fitness challenges.
“The training meals are a project that we have been working on for a while,” explains Kerry.
“Our target audience is boot camps, PT’s and fitness centres, who we can work with to create a menu for their clients that follows the guidelines in their nutrition plan.
“Currently, we are working with the Fitness Games, who are part way through their 12-week challenge, and we have had a great response.
“I know there are a lot of frozen type meals available through different suppliers, but I wanted to offer customers fresh, home style meals that meet the requirements for their fitness challenge.
“I myself have done a number of fitness challenges and feel that creating an offer like this is definitely a great way to help people remain on task to achieve their fitness goals. Most of us are time poor, and today, every moment of our lives is busy so if we can help with taking away the time it takes for people to prepare their meals, I know it will help them on their road to completion.”
Alongside their training meals, Belrowes are also offering a variety of additional healthy meal options tailored to customers who are not involved in fitness challenges.
“We also have a number of meals on offer available in our cabinet as grab and go,” says Kerry.
“We have a selection of training meals available through our regular meal offering, and we also offer protein smoothies for all customers.
“We don’t want anyone to miss out, so we have ensured there is something for everyone!”
The hospitality industry has become an increasingly competitive market, however, The Santariga’s business acumen, loyal customer base and passion for quality food has put them ahead of the game. Kerry hopes that the business will continue to grow and expand organically, but for the moment is taking it as it comes.
“I think we have really grown organically, and I hope to continue to do this in the future,” says Kerry.
“I can be quite spontaneous, so who knows, watch this space and we shall see what happens”.
By Georgie Desailly for BDmag