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Businesses of Banyule’ presents Karve it Up Meats & Fine Food, Greensborough Plaza

Not too many people open a new business just two years after having a stroke, but for Nicola Baaini it was also a new business that was outside her experience.

While she has diverse experience, including business coaching, car rentals and starting one of Melbourne’s first gluten free cafés in 2001, Nicola had no butchery experience, although her then partner did, when she opened Karve it Up Meats & Fine Food in Greensborough Plaza in 2014.

Nicola agrees that the challenge was perhaps not ideal for her health but says that when you are building a business and people are relying on you, you “just have to do what you have to do”, which includes working every single day since the business opened in 2014, except for the few public holidays that the Plaza is shut.

However, Nicola said that sometimes people put more stress on themselves by trying to find ‘balance’. “If you let that stuff go then everything has a way of falling into place.”

It is evident that Nicola loves running Karve it Up. Our interview is interrupted numerous times as she and customers greet each other, with Nicola saying she and her staff know approximately 80% of their customers by name. “I do try to make the effort to make people feel welcome and special and that this is the place for them,” she said.

The business’ point of difference is that it caters for people’s allergies, including offering gluten and fructose free produce. Nicola has even employed a full time chef and now, with demand increasing, an apprentice who keep display cabinets full of tempting and popular readymade meals.

One of the challenges of running a fresh produce business is trying to predict what your customers will want, particularly with Melbourne’s changeable weather and many other external influences, such as what’s been on the latest cooking show on television. “You cannot plan and there is no consistency.”

Apart from building her business, Nicola is on the Australian Meat Industry Council Victoria and a board director of Primesafe, Victoria’s meat industry regulator. In August, Karve it Up was a category winner in the Banyule Bestbiz Awards and in October was runner up in the Victorian Retail Butcher of the Year awards, with all other finalists having been in the industry for 20-30 years.

“We are passionate about what we are doing,” Nicola said. “We are also very conscious about animal welfare, which is why, for example, we do not stock veal as it goes against our ethics.”

Nicola describes herself as “owner, manager, worker”, happily saying that while she has more responsibility than others in the business she is not above pitching in with the hose and scrubbing down alongside her teenage employees.

“I think one of the things that makes us really, really good is that we are a family in there. Like any family, we have good days and bad days, but we genuinely care about each other and if anyone comes into the team without that philosophy they sort themselves out – either by not staying very long or by becoming part of the family.”