Patrick LaManna greets each of his staff members by their first name as they arrive for work one by one. “Morning Carmel. Morning Tamer. Morning Tan. How are the kids?” he asks.
The LaManna Direct Owner was given a valuable piece of advice from his father Vince when he took over the family business: “Treat your staff with respect so that they love coming to work, and love working for you.”
It’s advice that’s paid off. LaManna has 270 staff members working in different segments of the business, from its bustling café and pastries to the poultry division. The business has even invested in its own food scientist and procurement officer to help it evolve as the country’s largest Australian grown fruit and vegetable market.
Patrick’s grandfather Pat and his brother migrated to Melbourne in the 1950s from Reggio-Calabria, Italy.
“The first thing they saw when they walked out of the plane was this building, which was a plane hangar,” Patrick says, pointing to the 10,000 square metre precinct.
“Pat and his family were farmers. It’s all they knew. He went to Colac to pick onions and potatoes, then worked in a fruit shop in Preston, and forced himself to learn English. He just loved working with fruit and vegetables.”
Pat went on to open 11 fruit shops before establishing a wholesale banana business with his sons Vince and Greg from 1980 to 2003, followed by an online service delivering groceries and produce to homes.
“This experience taught him the value of customer service, and its something that’s been passed on to me and my staff,” Patrick says.
“The shop was originally designed to be a grocery store with a 12-seater café, but because the café keeps getting bigger, Patrick says it’s almost become a “café with a grocery store inside it”.
LaManna Direct serves its customers Grinders Coffee, which shares many of the same values as the grocery brand.
“The key is to have a good relationship with your suppliers, like Grinders. They are a local roaster and big on loyalty, quality, and consistency – just like we are,” Patrick says.
Grinders Coffee State Business Manager for Victoria George Khoury has known Patrick for the past five years. He says finding the right blend of coffee for his customer was a delicate process to make sure it was “just right”.
“We did four tastings at Grinders’ head office in Fairfield and we all agreed on the LaManna signature blend. It really cuts through across milk-based and black drinks. It also had to be something Vince liked as a short black,” George says. “He expects perfection and nothing less.”
Regular customers travel from near and far for a daily caffeine fix from Head Baristas Billy Dimitry, Tamer Rossi, Naimie Dean, and Cassie Jarvis. The power team pump out up to 1000 coffees a day via its La Marzocco machine.
“Early in the morning we see lots of tradies stop by, policemen from the police wing and air ambulance, corporates from surrounding businesses, then during the day it’s a mix of mothers and their children doing their shopping, and elderly people coming out for a break. LaManna is not just a grocery shop, it’s a destination and meeting place for the local community.”
More than that, LaManna Direct has become a community icon for its customer service and quality produce.
“People associate themselves with our store,” Patrick says. “They love being apart of the culture we’ve created, and I love that it makes an impact on people’s lives.”
It’s not just the coffee visitors travel to LaManna for, it’s the breakfast range that serves dishes including smashed avocado, holla beetroot, and burgers.
Like many childhood memories, Patrick recalls going to the grocery shops with his parents and the ritual of packing the trolley with ingredients. It seems fitting, then, that his love for produce is what his world revolves around.
“For many people, grocery shopping is a laborious job. What we’ve done here is make it an enjoyable experience. I love what I do, and I love that I get to spend time with the extended family.”
Up to 20 members of the LaManna family work at the store: Patrick’s father, mother, younger sister, older sister and her husband, Patrick’s girlfriend, and numerous cousins.
This May will mark coffee month at LaManna Direct. Grinders Coffee will support LaManna with various coffee experiences and demonstrating the multitude of coffee applications including food and alcohol. And just when you think the store couldn’t get any better, Patrick reveals there’s already plans to expand the café and kitchen, and introduce LaManna’s own range of pods.
“There’s never an end point. It’s a competitive market out there and we need to continue to improve. We can never be truly satisfied. We want to be better, and we will,” Patrick says. “It’s all for the love of food – and coffee.”