22 December 2023

2023 Year in Review: Doing business in the Riverina

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The Riverina’s business world is thriving as locals bring innovation and energy to their big ideas. From hot sauce to emus, art and eggs, here’s what’s driving our community’s commerce.

15. Junee Pastured Eggs thriving on support for cracking product of biodiversity
by Jarryd Rowley

chickens grazing

Despite being open for less than a year, Junee Pastured Eggs is already receiving high acclaim for its top-quality products. Photo: Junee Pastured Eggs.

Since returning to the Junee district in 2021, George Main and his partner Sean Kerins have worked to give back to the community that they call home.

Working out of a farm owned by George’s family, the pair have started a local business providing high quality pastured eggs for the people of the Riverina.

George and Sean had been working in Canberra for many years before deciding to make a switch.

14. This Wagga hot sauce is not for the fainthearted
by Chris Roe

You can't get sauce much hotter than Jacobs.

You can’t get sauce much hotter than Jacobs. Photo: Chris Roe.

Wagga chef Jacob Chapple makes a very hot sauce. In fact, it’s so hot that every bottle declares “this is bloody beyond hot” and comes with a legal waiver.

“It covers me and anyone else that supplies my sauce,” he said with a cheeky grin.

“Basically, it says that by purchasing this bottle, you’ve read the ingredients and take full responsibility for any repercussions that may or may not occur”.

13. Two sides of the same coin – how polar opposite jobseekers both ended up in real estate
by Morgan Kenyon

PRD Real Estate headquarters.

PRD Real Estate staff have a century of combined industry experience. Photo: PRD Real Estate.

Long gone are the days when a real estate agent just sold houses. In 2023, the best property firms curate specialist teams, upskilling their staff across a variety of roles and providing a freedom of movement unseen in the past.

Both relative newcomers to the property scene, Stephanie Kleidon and Shaun Tipping seem like chalk and cheese at first glance.

Stephanie is just over a year out of high school and entering the working world for the first time. In his mid-50s, Shaun has enjoyed a number of careers in different sectors, most recently working as a truck driver.

12. Wagga’s Nurse Next Door is committed to making lives better
by Chris Roe

nurse next door

Jonathon and Kyle from Wagga’s Nurse Next Door are committed to making lives better. Photo: Supplied.

Wagga nurse Jonathon Richter and partner Kyle Stephen are bringing a fresh (and very pink!) approach to home health care in the Riverina.

The pair launched the Riverina’s Nurse Next Door Home Care Services this year, helping elderly residents and people with a disability to continue living independently at home.

“I’ve worked here as a registered nurse for eight years and, although I did the best to care for my patients in the hospital, I just felt like it wasn’t quite enough,” said Jonathon.

11. Emu farming finally pays off after three decades at The Rock
by Chris Roe

Ian Marston was one of a small number of emu farmers who held on after the industry folded in the 1990s

Ian Marston was one of a small number of emu farmers who held on after the industry folded in the 1990s. Photo: Chris Roe.

As you turn off the Olympic Highway and head up the hill towards the Marrocka Emu Farm, the sight of hundreds of birds grazing in a high-fenced paddock with sheep on one side and cattle on the other is somewhat startling.

A steady drumming noise echoes from a dozen throats as the curious creatures stalk up to the fence for a closer look and peer through the wire.

Ian and Marilyn Marston have been farming emus at The Rock, southwest of Wagga, for almost 30 years after buying a vacant block of land in 1991.

10. An eye for art and a knack for hanging it have made Steph’s Paper Pear a hit
by Chris Roe

woman in her art gallery

Steph Day is bringing colour to Gurwood Street with her gallery Paper Pear. Photo: Chris Roe.

Steph Day is the woman behind what is arguably Wagga’s most beautiful shop window.

The Paper Pear studio and gallery in Gurwood Street is hard to miss and the art deco shopfront is always filled with a shifting display of eye-catching artworks.

“It certainly attracts some attention and I’ve almost caused a few bingles when I see people driving past rubber-necking out the window looking,” she says with a laugh.

9. Horse dentist recognised after pioneering Griffith’s only mobile vet service
by Oliver Jacques

Dr Michelle Noga

Dr Michelle Noga specialises in horse dentistry. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A Griffith-based veterinarian who specialises in horse dentistry has won the Griffith Business Chamber award in the Outstanding Start Up category, after pioneering the town’s only mobile vet service.

Dr Michelle Noga was born into a Polish immigrant family and raised in Sydney, where she completed her doctorate in veterinary medicine. As a beach lover, she never imagined herself moving inland, but fate intervened – she attended a country music concert in her city one day and met orange farmer James Battistel, who lived in Lake Wyangan.

After dating long distance, Dr Michelle moved to Griffith to be with him, taking up a job at Yoogali Veterinary Centre, where she worked for three years.

8. The high-end market is embracing this Wagga-based business
by Dione David

Craftsman's arm making furniture from wood

Making furniture exactly the way people want is a major drawcard for Eclipse Handcrafted Furniture’s high-end and designer clientele. Photo: Adam Drummond.

Finding its place in the furniture industry has been a decades-long rollercoaster for Wagga’s Eclipse Handcrafted Furniture.

Owner Ross Triffitt and his wife started their business in the ’80s, selling furniture and giftware from wholesalers before hiring one craftsman, who worked from their old tin shed to make small amounts of their own timber furniture.

Starting with country cottage-style furniture in Wagga when it had barely even been seen in metro markets, Eclipse’s style has been through numerous incarnations, navigating changing contemporary aesthetic trends.

7. Local business leaders embrace Ronald McDonald House visit
by Jarryd Rowley

Ronald McDonald House Wagga Wagga executive officer Lisa Simpson, Smallmon Brothers Waste CEO Nigel Smallmon, Region Riverina Commercial Manager and Wagga TV CEO Adam Drummond, Ron Crouch Transport COO Peter Braneley, Murrumbidgee and Southern Local Health Districts CRO Jen Spain and senior manager of communications at AgriFutures Australia Jennifer Galloway. Photo: Supplied.

Six Riverina business leaders took part in the Ronald McDonald House CEO Walk In My Shoes charity event this year, raising more than $17,000 for families facing medical hardship.

The company executives spent 24 hours supporting volunteers by cooking and cleaning for families staying at Wagga’s Ronald McDonald House.

Ron Crouch Transport CEO Peter Braneley said the event provided insight into some of the challenges faced by families with sick kids.

6. Grace Wani offers an ‘Afrolook’ in Wagga after a whirlwind journey from South Sudan
by Shri Gayathirie Rajen

Grace Wani

Grace Wani opened Afrolook in 2011. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Did you know you can get your hair professionally braided in Wagga? Or maybe you like the look of cornrows and dreadlocks? Grace Wani started her ‘Afrolook’ hair salon in 2011 just to see if she could run the business.

“When the shop owner was selling the place, I thought, let me give it a try,” Grace said. “So I gave it a go, and it’s been 12 years!”

5. Caesars furniture store Griffith celebrates 60th anniversary and confirms expansion
by Oliver Jacques

A group of people in front of balloons

Paul Pierotti with the Fanini family: Adrian, Nadia, Anna and Marco. Photo: Supplied.

The iconic Caesars Griffith furniture shop marked its 60th birthday in February this year, celebrating longevity in an industry that’s become increasingly brutal for family-run businesses.

The celebrations drew a who’s who of Griffith business identities, as the family revealed a second store location and explained to Region why the furniture industry is so much tougher for family businesses these days.

4. Riverina Made: Griffith’s Mary Restagno launched giftware business at age 67
by Oliver Jacques

woman with her flowers

Griffith’s Mary Restagno proves it’s never too late to start your own business. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Griffith’s Mary Restagno has proved it’s never too late to start your own business. The retired 70-year-old comes from a farming family and has lived in Griffith most of her life. About three years ago, she started Mary’s Assorted Giftware, with dried silk and preserved floral arrangements.

Mary makes frames, flower assortments, silks, decorative oil bottles, cake toppers and the like. Preserved flowers come from Sydney and Mary can make frames and preserved flower arrangements for the cemetery – and she’s also looking after eight grandkids!

3. Regulator blocks Dan Murphy’s from opening Griffith store due to high domestic violence rates
by Oliver Jacques

Construction site next to Griff Hotel

Dan Murphy’s plans for a new store at 75-77 Yambil Street have been blocked. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Alcohol retailer Dan Murphy’s was prevented from establishing a new store in Griffith, with the state regulator citing the town’s domestic assault rates and high Indigenous population as reasons for its decision to deny the company a local liquor licence.

The popular beer, wine and spirits store has been trying to establish a presence in Griffith since 2020. After overcoming a few roadblocks, Griffith City Council approved its development application in June 2022, on the vacant lot 75-77 Yambil Street, next to the Griff Hotel.

But the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) rejected its application for a packaged liquor licence, which denied Dan Murphy’s the right to sell takeaway alcohol.

2. Get ready for Cards & Combat as Wagga’s newest board game store prepares to open its doors
by Jarryd Rowley

Josh and Jessica Serafin's new game shop Cards & Combat opens its doors this Saturday 7 October.

Josh and Jessica Serafin’s new game shop Cards & Combat opened its doors on 7 October. Photo: Jarryd Rowley.

Wagga Wagga has been without a gaming shop for almost a year, but now, thanks to brother and sister combo Josh and Jess, that’s changed.

Sales of board games took off during the pandemic and the world enjoyed the thrills of a good card game or a tabletop battle, but Wagga was left in the dark.

1. Former fruit picker takes over two major Griffith accommodation hubs
by Oliver Jacques

Yogesh Bhatt

Yogesh Bhatt has worked hard to enhance his business empire. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

An Indian immigrant who first came to Griffith to pick oranges and prune grapes has taken over two major accommodation centres in the town.

Longtime Yenda resident Yogesh Bhatt is the new co-owner of the longstanding Original Backpackers hostel as well as the more upmarket Griffith Premier Suites, which he runs with his three business partners (and he’s still working 12 hours a day)

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