There’s a contented buzz among the aisles at Tamworth’s newest food store, boosted by the chatter and constant action from the cafe as coffee is ground and friends catch up. The site on the corner of Marius and Fitzroy Streets is almost unrecognisable from the tyre store that stood here previously, aside from the generous parking available.
Wray Organic Tamworth is the tenth store in a group owned and managed by Deborah Wray and her partner Gary Davis, and the first in NSW. Deb began her journey from busy mum to organic advocate when her son, then 16, could barely make it to school out of sheer, unexplained exhaustion. She took him to see a doctor who specialised in environmental medicine and was told to start paying attention to the ingredients in food and buy organic whenever possible.
After six months of organic eating Deb’s son became well and, despite previously thinking she was healthy herself, Deb personally found what she calls “a higher level of living”. From there, it was the combination of her business background and many hours traversing Brisbane in search of organic ingredients that helped Deb see a genuine gap in the market. In 2005, Deb and Gary opened the first Wray Organic in the Gold Coast’s Palm Beach.
Fast forward to today and Tamworth’s Wray Organic boasts a staggering number of products. Mountains of bread greet customers as they come through the door and to the left is a wall of dry goods, including nuts, flours and dried fruit, all certified organic. Deb is quick to point out the dried apricots, black in colour due to the lack of artificial preservatives but far superior in taste compared to supermarket offerings.
“There’s a lot of education required. The fruit and vegetables look different, the apples are not as big and glossy with false wax on them,” explains Deb, who runs regular shop tours to teach her customers what to expect from organic food, why the seasons affect what produce is available and how to use some of the more unusual ingredients on offer in store, such as buckinis and maca powder. On the other hand, Deb also champions simple food. Many of her recipes use very few ingredients and allow the quality of the produce to shine through.
Those who can’t make it to a shop tour can view Deb’s recipes in the Wray Organic newsletter, or enjoy them in the cafe, where they make up the bulk of the menu. A regularly changing array of in-house, fresh salads might include pear, walnut and brie; and the sandwiches, including the roast vegie toastie with seasonal vegies, hummus and creamy mayo, are available on spelt or gluten-free sourdough. Meanwhile, early risers can choose a certified organic single origin Di Bella coffee or a ‘superfood’ bowl (such as acai or chia) to kickstart their day, as well as more conventional offerings such as muesli and croissants.
The menu is littered with words such as ‘paleo’ and ‘superfood’, but Deb is measured when it comes to their health benefits. She reiterates her belief that it all comes back to chemical-free eating. “All these movements, the raw food movement, the paleo movement, are fantastic but it’s not healthy to me unless it’s certified organic.”
Deb stands behind her belief in the benefits of organic food so fiercely that all her stores – not just the brands offered within – are certified by Australian Certified Organic (ACO), Australia’s largest certifier for organic and biodynamic produce. This means that everything sold within, from salmon to cleaning products, is certified by ACO and Wray Organic is independently audited annually.
Trust and integrity are Wray Organic values. Deb recalls when she first noticed harmful preservatives and additives on food labels explaining, “I thought someone was watching. People still think someone’s checking. And they’re not. So this is why we stand behind Australian Certified Organic.”
Deb and Gary are grateful for the support they’ve received from the Tamworth public.
“A lot of mums come in, they love it. And foodies. We are often treated like a gourmet deli because we have the best cheeses and the most amazing array of bulk goods,” gushes Deb, who is seeing just as many people following trends in Tamworth as in other stores.
Despite seeing, and catering too, all the latest food trends – coconut oil, raw cacao, kombucha – it’s the staples that Deb cites as most popular.
“Quality sourdough bread, certified organic milk. The difference is extraordinary.” These staples, including meat, fruit and vegetables, are what Deb believes sets Wray Organic apart from a health food shop.
“We don’t have a huge range of pills and supplements. That’s not my skill. We’re not health professionals, we are grocers,” she says, clearly proud of it, and justifiably so.
“It sounds cheesy but we really do change people’s lives. Just through food. Food is a very good start.”
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