At first glance you might think that Madeleine Hoy’s fruit and vegetable candles are the real deal. In fact, the other day I grabbed a lemon out of my fruit bowl and put it alongside a Nonna’s Grocer lemon-shaped candle to compare the pair. The only difference I could spot was the small white wick!
Maddy started making her remarkably lifelike fruit and veg candles under her brand Nonna’s Grocer in early 2020, after the fatigue she experienced living with a chronic illness meant that she had to go down from full time to part time at her job with an events company. What started out as a soothing, meditative way to keep her hands and brain busy has now evolved into a rapidly growing business with four (soon to be five) team members and a dedicated studio space in Wollongong, New South Wales.
Nonna’s Grocer is inspired by her great grandparents, who founded a grocery store in Daylesford, Victoria, and went on to own many more across Victoria. Her whole family have had a special relationship with produce, and in an unconventional way, Nonna’s Grocer is a way for Maddy to connect with that rich history.
We chatted to Maddy more about the Nonna’s Grocer empire, how she manages to make her candles so lifelike, and her plans for the future!
Hey Maddy! Can you tell us a little about your background and how you’ve found yourself where you are today? What has been your creative journey?
I believe my creative journey began the day I was accepted into NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney to study set and costume design. Going to a school that had such a rich array of various design disciplines (writing, acting, directing, designing) was a really unique and collaborative ecosystem to kickstart my multi-disciplinary design passion and overall creative journey.
Upon graduating, I essentially ‘fell’ into the events industry – which is where I was given the unique opportunity to hone my craft designing large scale sets for some pretty incredible people and brands. I learned that I really loved developing the ‘mood’ of the event, that is the overarching ‘look and feel’, and was interested in weaving this through every design element, thinking about how everything would work together. I think this training has really influenced how I have approached my own business, particularly when finding refreshing ways to evoke the sense of the brand.
Talk me through the background of Nonna’s Grocer. When did you start your business, and is it what you do full time?
In 2020 I had to shift from full time work hours at the events company I was working at down to part-time due to an on-going chronic illness. I was suffering from an intense amount of fatigue and brain fog at the time so I found that immersing myself in the world of candle making was a really soothing experience and something to take my mind off all of the fun things I was missing out on. This meditative practice slowly evolved into making candles for friends and family which encouraged me to evolve the brand identity I had bubbling away in my head. In June this year I quit my job to respond to the influx of orders and have adapted to the demand ever since, chronic illness and all!
Can you tell me a little about your Great Grandparents, and how they inspired Nonna’s Grocer?
My Great Grandfather Giuseppe Schepisi migrated from Sicily over to Australia in the 1930’s. His passion for food and love of community resulted in the creation of a ‘fruiterer and grocer’ with his sister in Daylesford, Victoria called ‘Lo Cantro’. You can still find the original tiles of the store in the main street. (Fun historical fact: Daylesford was a particularly popular town for the Italians in those days as the locals could collect mineral water from the local springs).
Once Giuseppe learned the ropes of running a fruit shop he opened several more stores across Melbourne, with his kids running the shops alongside him! I think the passion for wholesome produce has definitely remained in the family. My dad established himself as a chef/ restaurateur in Melbourne and would often take me on fruit and seafood market expeditions as a kid which I loved (minus the smelly seafood). It’s funny returning to these nostalgic places, and reimagining them through a design lens.
To come full circle, I really loved the idea of connecting my design trade with my Great Grandfather’s trade. Somehow meeting in the middle with my design skills and his produce felt really intentional and special. Taking something old and nostalgic and making it feel fresh and contemporary is a really fun realm to design within.
Your candles are SO incredibly lifelike. It’s uncanny! Can you talk me through the process of creating them, and how you get them to look so much like the real things?
Well it all starts with a trip to the fruit shop. I have literally spent hours in a market looking at all of the lemons trying to decide which one would make a good candle. The trick is to pick one that has imperfections because that’s what gives the candle it’s charm. Once I have selected my favourites, I take them home and cast them. I spend a lot of time perfecting the resin cast of the fruits, editing the imperfections and determining the wick placement, ready for the final moulding process. I then dabble with mixing multiple dyes to determine what I think the colour of the fruit candle should be. I consider the whole range when finalising the colours as I love playing with different tones and seeing what colours feel right together (completely obsessed with putting red and green next to each other at the moment). And finally, once the pouring and drying time is complete, we hand finish every single candle which involves carving, buffing and polishing to have it ready for your fruit bowls.
What space do you create your candles in? Do you have a team?
I have a production room in a new creative studio called ‘The Heart’ in Wollongong. There are some incredibly talented people scattered through the building which is a really cool environment to be in. When I signed the lease I thought it was just me who would be utilising the space but the team has grown to 4 now with a fifth person that comes in on the odd occasion. It’s a lot of us in a tight space, so we are bursting at the seams a bit.
It almost feels like a start-up environment as we flesh out what a candle making facility needs and how things should run, but we are evolving every day which is really exciting. It’s a really collaborative environment too with everyone bringing a skill to the table which I love (and need) in this fast-paced and unknown environment.
What is your dream for the future of Nonna’s Grocer?
Ohhh I am dreaming pretty big which is healthy I guess but daunting too. I can’t wait to scale up, create a community of local makers and shakers, have a space where I can host team lunches and design new pieces, and find a way to keep our products made local and with soul.
Maddy is taking a little summer break, but the online store will be back up and running on Jan 4th! Follow Nonna’s Grocer on Instagram here and visit their website here.