The Happy Frog

Nick Rose

This article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate, 14.5.11

This is the second of a two-part interview with Kim Towner, owner and manager of Tangellos and Happy Frog, and Coordinator of the Sunday Harbourside Markets.

Happy Frog was born two years ago, because Kim felt that Coffs Harbour was lacking a place ‘where you can go and buy the local fruit and veg all the time’, and help build a culture of sustainability – both social and environmental.

Kim chose the Frog because ‘it’s a measure of environmental health. I wanted to get everybody here, not just the vegetarians. I thought, let’s replace two meals a week with vego stuff, and let’s not have bottled water, let’s just look at those two things. And see what we can do differently.’

Happy Frog, Coffs Harbour
Happy Frog, Coffs Harbour

She gets as much local produce as she can, but not as much as she would like. At first, she bought largely direct from growers, but eventually logistical difficulties meant she had to rely on the services of a local wholesaler: Phil at A & D down at the Jetty. She speaks very highly of him – ‘he’s honest and fair and passionate’ – as do other businesses that preference good quality, fresh and reliable local produce.

The business has been very successful since opening – ‘people latched on to it really quickly, [they] heard about it through word of mouth’ – but Kim feels it’s still ‘really difficult to get people to buy here, and not buy in the supermarket’, even though the produce compares well on price.

‘I remember when we’d opened a few months’, she says, ‘and Woolies were offering a huge discount – 30 cents a litre on petrol – if you spent $300. I went and looked at their tomatoes and cucumbers, and worked out that if you bought tomatoes and cucumbers here, which were both local and beautiful – you would have saved $8, just on that one purchase of a kilo each of those two items. That [just] blew me away.’

The most profitable part of Happy Frog is the café. Thursday is always a busy day, because of the city centre growers’ market; Kim says other local businesses should ‘stop whingeing’ about it and look at their turnover on a Thursday.

One recent popular option has been a take-away dinner offer of $25 for four people, which is excellent value if you have tasted the many salads, lasagnes, lentil patties and kofta balls the café offers. The menu for the week is sent out each Monday to her growing email list of 150 people.

Kim and her team are now looking to expand on this by moving into catering: ‘We do party salads in bulk, and also funerals, and from that we do lots of meetings. This is a growing part of our business. It introduces a lot of people to the taste, and to the vegetarian thing.’

Kim is full of ideas for the future, both for Happy Frog and the region. There’s local value-adding: ‘We’ve just started our own dukkhas, semi-dried tomatoes, and I want to do jams, and relishes, and salad dressings.’ She also wants to ‘get in to school canteens…at Toormina High School – I’d love to do a Jamie Oliver-type thing, we could do some really good stuff, with the crew we’ve got.’

Her ‘favourite vision’ is to create a ‘shopping centre with a difference – a blend of shopping centre and markets. So that you had everything there – great big kitchens that made pasta, and bread, and jams, and you had a nursery, and a healing section where you got your hair cut, a massage – and you open the whole front of it up, with glass – and you played live music every day, and you had a kids’ playground there. And you had hand-made shoes, and clothing, and it was all there so people good see it. I reckon that would go so off – it would be like, this is how can you do it, a community shopping centre, but modern, and cool and funky.’

Her other big dream is ‘to see a hemp and bamboo industry [for Coffs Harbour’.

These plants grow abundantly, ‘they make beautiful fabric and great sustainable products. Coffs Harbour for ever has been flogging this tourism thing. I’ve got nothing against tourists – but it goes up and down, and changes. But let’s have something that’s really sustainable, for the long term….We could come up with some great name for hemp clothing that was made here, and exported to the damn world!’

These dreams will probably be for someone else to bring to reality, because there’s only so much one person – even one as energetic and visionary as Kim Towner – can do. But she and her team are living proof that the future here can be very bright indeed.