Converting a beloved passion into your life’s purpose often takes courage, a leap into the deep end and a faithful companion to endure it with you. This is exactly what childhood friends Jerome Batten and Louis Joseph encountered when they dreamed of turning their passion for fresh food and produce into a contemporary spin on the neighbourhood grocer. Three months ago, they rose the rollerdoor for the first time at Teneriffe’s Sourced Grocer – a providore of local produce and simple cafe fare that bases its very essence on celebrating the beauty of locally sourced food, pride in provenance and eating thoughtfully.
When Jerome Batten met Louis Joseph at the puckish age of four, their friendship stuck fast. Growing up together in the town of Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales, their friendship blossomed until, four years later, Louis and his family moved to Sydney. Despite the distance that now separated the two, there was no doubt that a lifelong friendship had been formed. The next 21 years saw the duo traversing the planet in search of experiences that would satiate their wanderlust. From Jerome’s sojourns spending winters on the ski fields of Colorado, working in London, and teaching English in Shanghai, to Louis’ wanderings through the Middle East and several years working for an investment firm in Vietnam, travel was not only an inspiration for the two, but also an important source of learning. And it was through their experiences travelling that Jerome and Louis’ passion for food evolved.
“Some of my most memorable experiences were while travelling in the Middle East,” Louis recalls. “A lot of the culture was embodied in the food and hospitality – food is such a great window into people’s background and culture. In Beirut, they have a great capacity to enjoy life after enduring a great deal of hardship. Dining out is a big part of their culture, and there are some superb farmers markets run by a fellow called Kamal, which bring together people from all over the countryside into an old semi-decrepit square in the middle of Beirut. ”
Jerome made similar observations throughout his own travels, enamoured by the way food was an important thread in weaving together a community. For both gents, it was these experiences that planted the seeds of inspiration for what would become Sourced Grocer. “With Louis being in Vietnam, and me in Europe and Asia, we’d seen how these cultures embrace food and the way they interact through food and offer it through their markets – it’s cut fresh every morning and brought to a place and shared,” Jerome says. “We’d been talking about creating something together for a couple of years while based in different places. We both wanted a change from what we were doing and we had that great connection with food through growing up with families who were fortunate enough to enjoy good food.”
Pooling their ideas and travel encounters, the boys set to work dreaming up something that would be worth putting away their passports for – at least for the time being. Inspired by their sensory memories of food whilst travelling, the two dreamed of creating a place where quality seasonal produce was celebrated, and a sense of community was woven throughout every carefully crafted fibre of the business.
When it came to the location for their project, there seemed no better choice than Brisbane. “We felt Brisbane had a lot of opportunity – there were a lot of things happening in the foodscape and the greater community,” Jerome explains of the decision, which saw Louis and his girlfriend Anna pack up and move to Brisbane from Sydney. “We’re at the doorstep of a lot of produce from the Sunshine Coast, and the Granite Belt and Northern Rivers region,” Louis adds. “If the goal of your enterprise is to showcase superb produce, you may as well get it on your doorstep.”
While searching for the perfect locale to house their dream, the boys came across the Teneriffe location by accident. “We were driving around the area looking for places for Louis and Anna to live, and we noticed a sign on the building saying it was available,” Jerome recalls. “It was a really unique-looking building, but it wasn’t until we saw the space inside that we knew that it was something we could work with.”
Where many people mightn’t have paid it a second glance, Jerome and Louis instantly recognised the simple beauty of the space. Once the contract was signed, they spent days and nights crafting the interiors from scratch (with friends and family pitching in to lend a hand). Next was the task of setting up relationships with the producers. With nothing but their passion and a unique idea to support their case, their technique was simply to appeal to like-minded people. “I think it was just about being genuine and explaining our thinking,” Jerome reflects. “A lot of the guys are on the same page as us, so the concept resonated with them.”
And so Sourced Grocer was born. Visit on a typical Saturday morning and the scene is one imbued with community spirit, where revellers fill virtually every space available. Some sit at the wooden communal table, sipping a fresh espresso while engrossed in the morning’s paper. Others perch on cushions in the large windowsill, chatting animatedly. The bench below is drenched in sunlight, and a heated challenge of Connect Four takes place over a breakfast of sourdough, bocconcini, cherry tomatoes and basil. Inside, settled on milk crates and the staircase, people rest their plates of bircher muesli, falafel or croissants on their knees.
This scene is exactly what Jerome and Louis hoped Sourced Grocer might become. “Part of what we’re trying to build is integrating into the neighbourhood and becoming part of people’s daily lives,” Jerome explains. “We’re very fortunate that people have responded to it.”
Locals have embraced Sourced Grocer and its owners with enthusiasm. “Everyone knows everyone and it’s always a friendly, first-name basis,” Jerome says. “We’ve been invited to people’s places for dinner and we have locals bringing in stuff from their gardens. And that’s what you hope for.”
Reflecting on the challenges of starting a business from scratch, the boys are clear on what has gotten them through it. “Speaking for myself, I’m very fortunate to be side-by-side with Louis going through it,” Jerome says. “There are skills that he brings to the table that I don’t have and I really respect him.” And Louis is quick to return the praise. “That runs both ways,” he says. “You need to be able to work off each other and trust each other and adapt and learn really quickly.” He adds that their efforts are buoyed by the support they’ve received.
“I’m inspired by my girlfriend and the sacrifices that she and everyone else dear to me has made to help make this happen. We’re driven to do a good job and not let others down. It makes you take pride in your daily tasks, even if it’s as humble as stacking bananas or apples.”
“We’ve really drawn on the support of our friends and family,” Jerome agrees. “And we really want to say thank you because we appreciate the support of everyone to let us have a go. It has been overwhelming and it makes you feel like you are doing something that is resonating with people.” The wisdom that the boys offer to the world is in the same vein. “Surround yourself with good people,” Louis offers, and Jerome agrees. “You don’t know how long you’re here for, so you’ve got to share your experiences with those who mean the most to you,” he adds. “Do what you want to do and try to have fun doing it.”