Dandenong Market is home to many traders who come from or work in family businesses, including many inspiring mothers.
This Mother’s Day we’re celebrating our ‘Mothers of the Market’. We want you to meet some of them here.
Meet Alem, our wonderful Mother of the Market who you can find at Abyssinia Coffee Land. If you’re up for a good coffee and a meaningful heart-to-heart, Alem is one to make you smile this Mother’s Day. Called by visitors of the Dandenong Market as an ‘angel’, a ‘hero’ and a friend, Alem describes working at the Market has left her with some of the best memories. She explains that it’s the relationships with people which ‘enrich’ her life, and ‘encourage her to keep doing what she does’. A single mum of her only daughter, Juanita, Alem describes the feeling of motherhood as being a beautiful ‘blessing’ – she says that the relationship with her child is ‘something she had never even dreamed of’.
One of the most special memories she shares with her daughter is spending Juanita’s birthday in Northern Ethiopia, Tigray, with her family and friends – the exciting thing about her birthday is that it falls on the 7 January – which is Christmas in Ethiopia! Alem describes that the meaning of her daughter’s name in Tigrinya translates to ‘a gift from God’ – and she truly believes that to this day. She only wishes her daughter to be successful, and she wants to be able to provide her every opportunity to take whichever path she wishes to in life.
Alem works every Market Day – selling ‘coffee and a smile from the heart’ for Mums everywhere. Abyssinia Coffeeland has a range of the finest Ethiopian organic coffee beans, from ground coffee to the exotic Yirgacheffe and Sidano – she looks forward to bringing her country’s taste to the Market community and seeing you soon!
Anna’s kids think they have the best Mum in the world, because she owns a lolly shop! And not just any old lolly shop – M&Co Sweet Treats is one of the Market’s most popular destinations!
“I think they’re hoping it will all be theirs one day,” Anna says with a laugh.
Born in Singapore, Anna’s full name is Ilyana, a Muslim name meaning ‘soft, kind and gentle’. Her children are Shakil, Falisha and Natasha.
Anna’s own mother was responsible for her opening the shop, when she suggested it would be a good idea to have a stall at the Market. Anna had spent years struggling to find the perfect lollies for a buffet or special American chocolate for her cake business, and in June 2019 when a business came up for sale they ‘dived in’, she says.
Now her Mum, son and nephew all work with Anna in the business, and they’ll be busy preparing personalised chocolate bouquets and pretty notebook packs for this Mother’s Day. M&Co Sweet Treats specialises in sourcing hard to find chocolates or sweets from the past.
When she has free time Anna loves to take the family on hiking and camping trips exploring the country. Anna and the girls are passionate Collingwood supporters and love churros and their two adopted cats. A favourite go-to Mum recipe to fill them up is a traditional Nasi Lemak of coconut rice, boiled eggs, fried anchovies, cucumbers and sambal.
Anna loves to remember when the kids were smaller and would all sleep in a bed together. This Mother’s Day she’s wishing for a sleep-in herself!
One of Cheryl’s most precious moments as a mother was having her two teenagers, Jai and Makayla, as groomsman and bridesmaid at her wedding in Fiji. These days they’re still beside her, working in the family business, MC Quality Seafood, along with Cheryl’s 71-year-old Dad.
“Being a mother is very special and I love it when our children and family work in the shop with us,” she says.
“I hope they keep doing well at school and enjoy the work they do in their own careers, and that they get married and have their own children one day.”
Cheryl, named after her mother’s midwife, came to Australia from England at the age of eight in the early 1980s, and grew up with a passion for dogs, tennis and most sports, and the colour blue which is reflected in her business brand.
After having her children she worked for two years part-time at Schwarze Seafoods, one of the Market’s oldest businesses, before launching MC Quality Seafood in 2017.
Cheryl is looking forward to serving her loyal customers the freshest crayfish, oysters and prawns to make Mother’s Day special, and afterwards will celebrate with her family, a good red wine and some great food – which could mean Jai’s favourite, ricotta cannelloni, or Makayla’s – spaghetti bolognaise!
Mother’s Day is doubly important to the mother-daughter combination of Ngoc and Antonia, who work side by side serving delicious dishes at Little Asia. They’re both hoping to give other Mums a break from slaving away in the kitchen on Mother’s Day, and afterwards spend the evening with their extended families.
On the menu will be the family’s favourite dishes, Vietnamese beef noodle and spicy noodle soups, Pho and Bun Bo Hue, chicken rice, and Thit Kho, braised pork with eggs. The women work alongside their husbands, Van and Chhee, and sibling, Darrian, in the business.
“Working at the Market with our family is hectic but it’s always nice to be together in the mayhem!” laughs Antonia, known as Toni, whose two young boys Xavier and Logan are ‘market babies’.
“We have a family dinner together every night, and when we go to Market the kids come with us. When Darrian and I were young there was always a family gathering every weekend at either our house or our uncles and aunties, and it was so nice to see our cousins every week.”
Ngoc, whose nickname is Chi Ba, meaning third sister, was born in Vietnam and has been coming to Dandenong Market for nearly 40 years. It was Toni who convinced her to open a shop together.
“I always dreamed of having a shop at Dandenong Market. I really enjoy being with the family and my grandchildren, and we both hope they take over the family business and have a bright future,” Ngoc says.
The two women have plenty in common – their favourite colour is purple and they both love rice paper rolls and their pet cats, although Ngoc prefers lilies while Toni likes tulips. And they both appreciate the gift of motherhood.
“Words cannot express the joy I felt having my first two, and then 14 years later, another two born 13 months apart,” says Ngoc.
“I just loved being pregnant and feeling the babies’ kicks,” says Toni, “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
And their wish for everyone on Mother’s Day? A happy dinner with the whole family!
Najwa will be wishing everyone a happy Mother’s Day at G’s Pizzeria on Sunday and relishing her wider ‘family’ – the traders in the Market. It’s no wonder her name means ‘deep love’ in her birthplace, Lebanon.
“I love how we all look out for each other in the Market and we look forward to all the festivals and events. In a way we become family,” says Najwa, who is usually called Nano or Naj.
It’s this consideration and respect for each other that’s behind Naj’s wish for world peace this Mother’s Day. If there was more empathy in the world it would be a better place, she says, without innocent people being left hurt and hungry.
Naj first started working at the Market when her cousin offered her a job at Dandy Pizza. After two years he offered to sell her the business, so Naj bought it and turned it into the popular G’s Pizzeria, using recipes passed down through three generations.
At the Market you’ll usually find Naj humming Purple Rain by her favourite artist, Prince, or chatting about her Shih Tzu dog named ‘Fursace’, a pun on Versace!
Her uncle owned a pizza shop while Naj was growing up and her parents used to work there in the evenings, so she remembers ‘getting up to a lot of mischief’ with her sister and cousins. These days as a mother she loves to cook for her family and gather around the table with them at dinner time.
“One of my most treasured memories is having my son Ramzi give me away at our wedding. He was also the best man and my daughter Ramona was maid of honour. I love travelling with them, seeing new places and cultures through their eyes and creating memories,” says Naj.
“I hope they have good health and that they achieve everything their hearts desire.”
On Mother’s Day at home there’s likely to be dishes of stuffed vine leaves and stuffed cabbage on the menu, or perhaps her son’s favourite, spaghetti with Greek yoghurt and pine nuts. But only after she’s served up plenty of mouth-watering pizzas, hot chips and traditional parmas at G’s Pizzeria.
The best thing about being a mother is ‘having a best friend’, says Jess Schwarze, and that’s her daughter, Dakotah.
“I remember her crawling for the first time, and her first days at kinder and primary and secondary school,” recalls Jess from behind the counter of her family’s Schwarze Seafoods.
“My wish for her is simply to be happy and healthy.”
Mother’s Day means quality family time for Jess, which is something she’s valued all her life. Schwarze Seafoods has been operating as a family business in the Market since 1930 and celebrates a remarkable 92 years in 2022. Jess works alongside her father, Dennis, and says she enjoys the comments of customers who’ve been shopping with them for years.
“They say things like ‘Are you Dennis’s daughter?’, ‘I’ve been coming to your shop since I was a kid’ or ‘Your family has been here for so long!’, and ‘Your Dad always has the freshest fish’,” she says with a smile.
“My Dad has been working at the Market for 50 years. I started helping out at Christmas time, then over the school holidays, and now I’m here full time.”
Jess has great childhood memories of playing around the Market with her sister and all the other kids while the parents worked, and then having family dinners with her cousins. These days her favourite things to do as a family aren’t much different.
“I love going to the movies with my daughter, looking around markets and getting the family together for dinner – just spending quality time with each other.”
Jess is looking forward to making Mother’s Day special for her customers with some of Schwarze Seafood’s fresh prawns and oysters.
Then it’ll be home for a favourite family dinner, perhaps chicken quesadillas, and a play with her Bull Terrier pup, who she describes as ‘the cheekiest, funniest dog ever!’